Saturday, April 13, 2024

Hunter Biden, the president’s son, who is the subject of an investigation by House Republicans into his family, told Congress on Tuesday that he was willing to testify — but only publicly so that Republicans cannot twist or selectively leak what he says.

In a letter to Congress, Abbe D. Lowell, Mr. Biden’s lawyer, criticized the Republican inquiry as a “partisan crusade,” and said he has watched as Representative James R. Comer, Republican of Kentucky and the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has used “closed-door sessions to manipulate, even distort the facts and misinform the public.”

Mr. Lowell proposed that Mr. Biden appear at a public hearing on Dec. 13, the date Republicans set for his closed-door interview, or “any date in December that we can arrange.”

“If, as you claim, your efforts are important and involve issues that Americans should know about, then let the light shine on these proceedings,” Mr. Lowell wrote.

Mr. Comer quickly rejected the offer, insisting that Mr. Biden first speak to the oversight panel behind closed doors, but said that he could still testify publicly down the road.

“Hunter Biden is trying to play by his own rules instead of following the rules required of everyone else,” Mr. Comer said in a statement. “Our lawfully issued subpoena to Hunter Biden requires him to appear for a deposition on Dec. 13. We expect full cooperation with our subpoena for a deposition but also agree that Hunter Biden should have opportunity to testify in a public setting at a future date.”

Should Mr. Biden speak publicly in the House under oath, he would be taking risks, both criminally and politically. He is the subject of a federal criminal investigation now being led by a special counsel, and he is under indictment on charges of lying about his drug use on a federal form he filled out to purchase a handgun in 2018. Any testimony he provides to Congress could be used against him.

Mr. Biden has also engaged in activities — leveraging his father’s status for profit, accepting expensive gifts from overseas interests, failing to pay taxes on time, drug use and prostitution — that while already well documented could be politically damaging to President Biden’s re-election efforts if they become the focus of additional attention.

But those familiar with Hunter Biden’s strategy say his offer was designed to limit both of those risks. By testifying publicly, he could avoid manipulation of his words that could occur through selective leaks from closed-door testimony. And by putting Mr. Comer in the position of rejecting an offer of public testimony, Mr. Biden’s team was able to signal that he feels he has nothing to hide.

It is not clear what will happen next, but the dispute could set up a lengthy standoff between Mr. Biden and the committee.

House Republicans have worked for months to try to build an impeachment case against President Biden, searching for support for their allegations that he corruptly profited from his family members’ overseas business dealings and accepted bribes. But to date, they have failed to deliver compelling evidence to back up their boldest claims.

Their investigation has focused heavily on the work Hunter Biden did for companies and partners in Ukraine, China and other countries.

Last month, Republicans issued subpoenas demanding testimony from both Hunter and James Biden, the president’s brother. Mr. Comer also demanded that other Biden family members submit to transcribed interviews.

He sent letters seeking interviews to Sara Biden, James Biden’s wife; Hallie Biden, the widow of Beau Biden, the president’s older son; Elizabeth Secundy, Hallie Biden’s sister; Melissa Cohen, who is married to Hunter Biden; and Tony Bobulinski, a former associate of Hunter Biden’s who has accused the Bidens of wrongdoing.

Mr. Comer has already issued subpoenas for the bank records of James and Hunter Biden as well as their associates, and obtained more than 14,000 pages of documents.

As a result of those subpoenas, Republicans obtained and then released copies of two checks that showed payments totaling $240,000 in 2017 and 2018 from James and Sara Biden to Joseph R. Biden Jr., now the president. Mr. Comer portrayed one of the checks as explosive new evidence that the family “laundered China money.” President Biden was out of office during those years.

But a lawyer for James Biden called Mr. Comer’s allegation “preposterous and highly misleading,” noting that the checks were to reimburse his brother for two personal loans he had made while they were both private citizens. Bank records reviewed by The New York Times supported that account.

Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the oversight panel, called the rejection of Hunter Biden’s offer to testify in public a humiliation for the Republicans and the latest example of their inability to support their assertions of wrongdoing by the Bidens.

“The evidence has shown time and again President Biden has committed no wrongdoing, much less an impeachable offense,” Mr. Raskin said in a statement. “Chairman Comer’s insistence that Hunter Biden’s interview should happen behind closed doors proves it once again. What the Republicans fear most is sunlight and the truth.”

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