By COLLEEN LONG, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite their flimsy majority in the House of Representatives, Republicans have doubled this week to use their new power next year to probe the Biden administration and particularly the president’s son.
But the halftime results have heartened a White House that has long been preparing for this moment. Republicans secured much smaller margins than expected, and advisers to President Joe Biden and other Democrats believe voters have punished the GOP for their reliance on conspiracy theories and lies fueled by Donald Trump about the 2020 election.
They see it as a validation of the administration’s playbook for the midterms and for the future to focus on and pursue legislative gains, in contrast to Trump-leaning candidates whose grievances about the president’s son played their staunchest supporters and to far in the weeds for the average American. Democrats retained control of the Senate, and the GOP’s margin in the House of Representatives is expected to be its smallest majority in two decades.
“If you look back, we won seats in New York, New Jersey, California,” said Mike DuHaime, a Republican strategist and public affairs manager. “These weren’t voters who came to the polls because they wanted Hunter Biden investigated – far from it. They came to the elections because they were upset about inflation. They are angry about the gas prices. They are upset about the war in Ukraine.”
But House Republicans used their first press conference after winning the majority to debate the president’s son, Hunter Biden, and the Justice Department, renewing long-held grievances over what they say is a politicized law enforcement agency and a bomb-bombing corruption case , which was overlooked by Democrats and the media.
“From their first press conference, these congressional Republicans have made it clear that they will do one thing in this new congress, and they are doing it to retaliate politically for Biden’s efforts on an agenda that helps working people . said Kyle Herrig, founder of the Congressional Integrity Project, a newly launched multimillion-dollar effort by Democratic strategists to counter the onslaught of House GOP investigations.
At the White House months ago, the attorney’s office increased staff and increased its communications efforts, and staff did extensive research and prepared for the attack. They have worked to identify their own vulnerabilities and plan effective responses. But anything the House is seeking related to Hunter Biden, who is not a White House staffer, will come from his attorneys, who have declined to respond to the allegations.
Rep. James Comer, new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said there were “troubling issues” of paramount importance about the business relationships of Hunter Biden and one of the president’s brothers, James Biden, that needed to be investigated further. He said they would also investigate the President.
“Radiating waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government is the primary role of the Oversight Committee,” said Comer, R-Ky. “Therefore, this investigation has the highest priority.”
Republican lawmakers promised a wealth of new information last week, but what they have produced so far has been a condensed rundown of a few years’ worth of complaints about Hunter Biden’s dealings, which trace back to conspiracy theories peddled by Trump.
Hunter Biden joined the board of directors of Ukraine’s gas company Burisma in 2014, around the time his father, then vice president, was supporting the Obama administration’s foreign policy toward Ukraine. Senate Republicans said the appointment may have raised a conflict of interest, but they have presented no evidence that the appointment influenced US policy and they have not implicated Joe Biden in any wrongdoing.
Republican lawmakers and their staff analyzed news and financial transactions found on a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden over the past year. They have long discussed Congress issuing subpoenas to foreign entities that have done business with it, and they recently got James Mandolfo, a former federal prosecutor, to assist the investigation as General Counsel of the Oversight Committee.
The difference now is that Republicans will have subpoena power to enforce them.
“Republicans will move on,” said Tom Davis, a Republican attorney who specializes in congressional investigations and legislative strategy. “I think their members are excited about pursuing these things…there are a lot of unanswered questions. Look, the 40-year trend is for parties to study their own party too little and the other party too much. It didn’t start here.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed the GOP’s focus on investigations as “brand thinking.”
“They said they’re going to fight inflation, they said they’re going to make that a priority, then they get the majority, and their top priority is actually not focused on the American family, it’s on the president’s family,” she said .
Even some newly elected Republicans oppose the idea.
“Tackling inflation and the cost of living is the top priority. … What I don’t want to see is what we saw in the Trump administration, where the Democrats have been relentlessly after the president and the administration,” New York Congressman-elect Mike Lawler said on CNN.
Hunter Biden’s tax and foreign dealings are already under investigation nationwide, with a grand jury in Delaware hearing testimony in recent months.
While he never held a presidential campaign position or the White House, his membership on the board of directors of the Ukrainian energy company and efforts to secure deals in China have long raised questions about whether he acted in his father’s public service, including reported references in his Emails to the “big guy”.
Joe Biden has said he never spoke to his son about his foreign dealings and there is no evidence the federal investigation involves the president.
Trump and his supporters, meanwhile, have launched a widely discredited theory that Biden pushed for the firing of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor to protect his son and Burisma from investigation. Biden did push for the prosecutor’s dismissal, but that reflected the official position not only of the Obama administration but of many Western countries, and because the prosecutor was considered soft on corruption.
House Republicans have also announced upcoming probes into immigration, government spending and parental rights. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Chris Wray have all been identified as possible witnesses.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the new Judiciary Committee chairman, has long complained about what he sees as a politicized Justice Department and the ongoing investigation into Trump.
On Friday, Garland appointed a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Florida home, as well as key aspects of a separate investigation related to the Jan. 6, 2021 riot and efforts to roll back the 2020 election .
Trump called the development “the latest in a long line of witch hunts” in a speech Friday night at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Of Joe and Hunter Biden, he asked, “Where’s your special prosecutor?”
Matt Mackowiak, a Republican political strategist, said it’s one thing for the Hunter Biden investigation to stick to corruption issues, but for it to veer into the kind of common-spirited messages floating around in far-right circles: “I don’t know. I don’t know if the public will have much patience for this.”