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The first impeachment inquiry hearing into Biden was six hours. Here's what happened

Rep. Jamie Raskin (at right), Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee (center) and Rep. Jason Smith during a House Committee on Oversight and Accountability impeachment inquiry hearing of President Biden on Thursday.
Mandel Ngan
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AFP via Getty Images
Rep. Jamie Raskin (at right), Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee (center) and Rep. Jason Smith during a House Committee on Oversight and Accountability impeachment inquiry hearing of President Biden on Thursday.

Updated September 28, 2023 at 7:02 PM ET

In the first impeachment inquiry for President Biden, Republicans zeroed in on his son, Hunter, and attempted to make the case that the president benefitted from his son's business dealings.

What resulted was a more than six-hour-long hearing that was at times both chaotic and antagonistic. At the same time, House Republicans struggled to prove their case against the president or his family.

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer said the panel had "uncovered a mountain of evidence" and claimed Biden used his official government role for his family's gain. But Comer and his Republican colleagues didn't provide clear evidence backing up this massive allegation of wrongdoing.

The three witnesses for Republicans didn't offer any direct knowledge of wrongdoing either. The witnesses, who were subject to criticism by Democratic panel members, even said there is not clear, impeachable evidence against Biden.

Forensic accountant Bruce Dubinsky, one of the witnesses brought by Republicans, said, "I am not here today to even suggest that there was corruption, fraud or wrongdoing. More information needs to be gathered before I can make such an assessment."

He said Hunter Biden's finances are complex and raise questions about potentially illegal activities.

Law professor Jonathan Turley, also a Republican witness, said in his prepared statement: "I have previously stated that, while I believe that an impeachment inquiry is warranted, I do not believe that the evidence currently meets the standard of a high crime and misdemeanor needed for an article of impeachment. The purpose of my testimony today is to discuss how past inquiries pursued evidence of potentially impeachable conduct."

However, he said the House passed the criteria to open such an inquiry into Biden.

Yet, at the hearing's conclusion, Comer said the committee will continue its effort to try to impeach Biden — a promise made nearly a year ago when Republicans took control of the House of Representatives last November.

Ranking Member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., speaks during a House Oversight Committee impeachment inquiry hearing of President Biden on Thursday.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Ranking Member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., speaks during a House Oversight Committee impeachment inquiry hearing into President Biden on Thursday.

Comer said "investigators have been shut down" whenever Republicans have attempted to explore any links to the president. He said an impeachment inquiry is needed to follow the evidence wherever it leads. He said the panel would be subpoenaing bank records for Hunter Biden and the president's brother James, as well as any affiliated companies.

White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations Sharon Yang said House Republicans "wasted hours peddling debunked lies."

"This flop was a failed effort to distract from their own chaos and inability to govern that is careening the country towards an unnecessary government shutdown that will hurt American families," she said.

Throughout the day, members relied heavily on the use of photos, props, posters and PowerPoints for lawmakers to emphasize their arguments, with not much to show for it.

There were some outbursts with members occasionally snapping back and forth as Comer struggled to keep the hearing in order at times.

As one lawmaker listed off the number of federal workers in each Republican member's district that will lose a paycheck if a shutdown happens, Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene shouted, "Democrats are the party of shutdowns. You love shutdowns!"

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called the proceedings an "embarrassment."

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters about avoiding a government shutdown and launching an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP
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AP
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters about avoiding a government shutdown and launching an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

How might a government shutdown impact this inquiry?

Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the panel, strongly criticized the actions of the committee for both lack of evidence and the hearing's timing, given a looming government shutdown.

He called it a "Seinfeld impeachment — an impeachment hearing about nothing," referring to the long-running TV sitcom.

Throughout the hearing, Raskin and other Democrats presented laptops in front of them with a clock counting down until the government would need to shut down.

And Rep. Shontel Brown, D-Ohio, called the hearing a "shameful show" that distracts from the potential Oct. 1 shutdown, which will have impacts beyond Capitol Hill.

"This preventable shutdown threatens the livelihood of millions of federal workers, small business owners, seniors and veterans," she said.

The White House sent out its own countdown update to reporters every half hour during the event, describing the hearing as a stunt.

Meanwhile, Republicans indicated a shutdown would not impact their inquiry. They plan to continue their impeachment inquiry during a shutdown, but it is so far unclear how many staffers will be assigned to it then. No additional hearings have so far been scheduled.

What's the evidence for impeachment?

In short: Not much.

Comer said ahead of the hearing that the House Oversight, Judiciary and Ways and Means committees "uncovered an overwhelming amount of evidence showing President Joe Biden abused his public office for his family's financial gain."

Among that evidence is thousands of pages of financial records and other information. But little has been publicly presented in the way of concrete evidence for an impeachable offense by Biden.

The House Ways and Means Committee voted in a closed-door session to release more than 700 pages of additional information that committee Republicans claim raises more questions about the Bidens.

The main allegation from House Republicans is that when Biden was vice president he directly benefited from Hunter Biden's business deals in Ukraine and China.

President Biden's son Hunter Biden leaves after a court appearance on July 26 in Wilmington, Del.
Julio Cortez / AP
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AP
Hunter Biden leaves after a court appearance on July 26, 2023, in Wilmington, Del.

Comer said in his opening statement that the Biden family and business associates "raked in over $20 million between 2014 and 2019" from foreign sources including from China and Ukraine.

"What were the Bidens selling to make all this money? Joe Biden himself," he said.

During questioning from California Democrat Rep. Ro Khanna, Turley, one of the Republicans' witnesses, said the evidence would be meaningful and show influence peddling if the president was aware it was happening and "encouraged it."

But there's been no clear smoking gun provided by Republicans related to any of their assertions about the Biden family.

A lot of the focus remained on Hunter Biden and his time as a lobbyist and consultant.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith of Missouri said information obtained by his panel "makes clear Hunter Biden's business was selling the Biden 'brand' and that access to the White House was his family's most valuable asset — despite official claims otherwise."

The allegations stemming from two IRS whistleblowers, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, continued to come up. The two came forward publicly and said that the Justice Department mishandled an investigation into the president's son. They took their complaints before the House Oversight Committee in July.

Republicans have seized on this and claimed that the two agents show that pressure was placed on the DOJ to delay the investigation.

Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Rep. James Comer (R-KY) (R) looks on as Ranking Member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) delivers remarks during the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., right, looks on as Ranking Member Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., delivers remarks during the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

Hunter Biden has since pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges related to his taxes in July after a deal with federal prosecutors fell through. A Justice Department special counsel indicted him on three felony charges for allegedly purchasing a gun while he was addicted to drugs in 2018.

Raskin took a procedural step to force a vote on issuing subpoenas to Lev Parnasand Rudy Giuliani, who he called two major witnesses on these issues. Parnas had helped Giuliani connect with Ukrainian figures as part of a campaign to dig up dirt on the Bidens ahead of the 2020 election.

This move to subpoena the two men was narrowly struck down by the panel.

Raskin and other Democrats on the committee similarly criticized the Republican members for pursuing the inquiry without first getting a full floor vote from the House. This is something Republicans criticized Democrats for not doing in their first impeachment inquiry into then-President Donald Trump.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz