The impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives is nearing its end with criminal referrals, not impeachment

To the casual observer, then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) announcement on September 12 bore all the hallmarks of an important moment in American political history. Here was the leader of the House of Representatives of Congress declaring that House committees would begin an investigation into the possible impeachment of the sitting president, an investigation rooted in multiple serious allegations of impropriety.

For observers who had been paying attention, however, the announcement was slightly less convincing. McCarthy’s predicates for the investigation were exaggerated and unproven – and not for lack of trying to prove them. The announcement of the investigation followed months, if not more than a year, of the actual effort to unearth incriminating information about President Biden, with Republicans in the House of Representatives unable to prove anything of substance.

In the months that followed they had no more luck. Attempts to substantiate allegations that Biden was deeply involved in and profited from his son and brother’s business endeavors fell short. When House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) recently made the case in an interview on Fox Business, his arguments were generally identical to those he would have made before the impeachment inquiry even began.

Those months of effort yielded nothing substantial by the end of 2023, leading Comer and his colleagues to repeatedly try to exaggerate the importance of demonstrably insignificant findings. Most embarrassingly, claims that Biden and his son Hunter took bribes from a Ukrainian businessman exploded in spectacular fashion, with the person who claimed to have been told about the bribes now facing criminal charges for allegedly making them up.

In February, Republicans were in trouble. They made no progress in linking Joe Biden to his family’s business endeavors, let alone in showing that Biden used his office on behalf of his brother James or Hunter’s business partners. Comer reversed course, arguing that the culmination of the investigation would include referrals to the Justice Department for criminal charges against those who had been the subject of his committee’s investigations.

This had a few advantages. First, it sidestepped Republicans’ awkward reluctance to chase his wild impeachment goose. Second, references have the advantage of sounding serious, while setting the bar for implementation low. And third, Comer could position the references as an argument for one of his party’s main goals: Voters needed to elect Donald Trump in November to get an attorney general who, unlike the Biden appointee, is much more likely to would file charges.

For months, Comer and his colleagues had hinted that the impeachment inquiry was reaching its final stages, with Comer recently suggesting that referrals would be the end product. And finally, the referrals were sent to the Justice Department on Wednesday, signaling the end had come.

By the standard of McCarthy’s original predicates for the probe, the end product – at least so far – is remarkably poor.

What the three committee chairmen – Comer, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) – are suggesting is that criminal charges are warranted against Hunter Biden and James Not Biden. for their work with Joe Biden or even for their work in general, but instead for allegedly making false claims against impeachment investigators. The referrals are essentially recommendations, a suggestion for the Justice Department to take action.

The Justice Department is unlikely to do so. The allegations in the references are fairly in the weeds, centering on whether Hunter Biden had control over a certain bank account and whether Joe Biden attended a certain meeting. The allegation in the referral is that alleged discrepancies between the testimony of Hunter and James Biden and the documents or testimony of other individuals were a result of deliberate dishonesty warranting criminal sanctions. It is useful to note here that Comer and Jordan in particular have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to make patently incorrect statements claims and repeatedly debunked claims, so the claims in the reference should not be taken at face value.

More importantly, the reference emphasizes that these falsehoods are proof that Republicans were right about Joe Biden all along.

“Hunter Biden and James Biden made materially false statements to the Oversight Committee and the Judiciary Committee, as evidenced by the evidence presented in the attached reference,” it says. “The nature of these false statements is not lost on the committees: each case implicates Joe Biden’s knowledge of and role in his family’s influence.”

This, however, is the central claim of the impeachment inquiry: that everything points to Joe Biden being involved in his family’s affairs. Did his son get a lot of money? Well, that seems pretty suspicious for Joe Biden! So because the president’s brother may have misremembered whether Joe Biden ever met with a business associate — even though investigators have been unable to prove any significance in other such meetings — this is being presented as yet more evidence of a cover-up.

Comer told Fox News he’s not done yet.

“This is not the end of our efforts to hold the Bidens accountable; it’s just the beginning,” he said in a statement. This statement seems to portend that more references are in the offing, possibly as the calendar moves closer to the November election.

But it also suggests that the research has been done. The attempt to prove that Joe Biden did things that warrant impeachment has been completed, without proving that Biden did things that warrant impeachment. There could be more references, perhaps even ones aimed at Biden, that a Trump-appointed attorney general could act on next year. But as has been clear for some time, there will be no impeachment.

From September to March, Fox News mentioned Biden and the impeachment more than 1,500 times. However, since April they have mentioned it less than 100 times. When even Comer’s most ardent media allies have lost interest in the effort to take down the president? Time to wrap things up and squeeze out all possible political gains before you do.

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