September 21, 2023 - 9:00 pm
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s decision to move ahead with impeachment proceedings — and the Democrats’ response — reminded me of something Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser reportedly once said, “The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves, which make us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them we are missing.”
Nasser was talking about foreign policy, but cleverly stupid politics doesn’t end at the water’s edge.
Let’s start with McCarthy. He unilaterally announced an impeachment inquiry — without putting it up for a vote — into what some call “the Biden crime family,” but no new committee will be created. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., chair of the Oversight Committee, will keep doing exactly what they’ve been doing.
That’s not the point, Republicans say. This is necessary to get the expanded subpoena power that impeachments provide.
Or not. During Donald Trump’s first impeachment, McCarthy insisted that a similar unilateral move by then Speaker Nancy Pelosi was illegitimate. Of course, hypocrisy is no hurdle for McCarthy. The real problem is that Trump’s Justice Department penned a memo arguing that the White House didn’t have to comply with subpoenas from an improperly formed impeachment inquiry. Biden’s lawyers can invoke not just the memo, but also a 54-page ruling affirming it from a Trump-appointed judge.
The upshot: McCarthy’s impeachment-lite will likely make it easier for the White House to stonewall, legally. Though it might make it harder politically.
And that gets at one of the reasons McCarthy did this. It’s great politics for most Republicans. But while fundraising and friendly coverage from conservative media is assured, McCarthy’s primary motivations have to do with the fragility of his speakership, which is sustained by a mere four Republican votes.
McCarthy simply didn’t have the votes for a proper impeachment. But pro-Trump members demanded something. Some sincerely believe Biden was complicit in his son Hunter’s influence peddling schemes. Others want it because Trump wants it — as payback, or to take some of the stigma out of his impeachments, or for 2024 campaign messaging.
And McCarthy wants to avoid a government shutdown. He apparently hoped that pro-Trump forces — concentrated in the House Freedom Caucus — would agree to keep the government’s lights on, if only to conduct their impeachment-ish hearings. So far, they’re not buying it. Impeachment and budget fights are on different tracks. “We can do both” in the words of Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.
But Democrats and much of the media are missing a few things, too. It’s no surprise that the White House would insist that there’s nothing connecting Hunter Biden’s obvious efforts at influence peddling and his then-vice president father. But it is remarkable how many in the media repeat the “no evidence” claim.
Impeachment fights invariably invite the misuse of legal concepts, none more so than “evidence.” Trump’s defenders would dismiss any fact as “circumstantial evidence.” But as virtually any criminal lawyer will tell you, most convictions at trial are won with circumstantial evidence — i.e., facts that push toward an inference of guilt. Most cases with lots of direct evidence — never mind cases with outright proof — don’t usually go to trial because defense attorneys know that’s their cue to cop a plea.
So when people say there’s no evidence that Biden was a knowing participant in his son’s shady dealings, what they mean is that there’s no ironclad proof. And there isn’t, at least not yet.
But there is plenty of evidence: testimony from Hunter Biden’s partners, accounts from various whistleblowers and bank records showing some unusual efforts to park funds in opaque LLCs. Biden’s own falsehoods about having no knowledge of his son’s overseas business dealings — despite giving him rides to foreign meetings on Air Force Two as vice president — are evidence he lied, but not proof he was involved.
The risk for Republicans is that this may be all the evidence they’ve got. Impeachment hearings are supposed to begin with solid evidence that leads to proof of misconduct. But McCarthy & Co. have other priorities.
The big risk for Democrats is that a majority of Americans (61 percent) already think Biden had some involvement in Hunter Biden’s business dealings. Simply insisting there’s no evidence won’t help Biden. That’s why this impeachment-lite effort may just be stupid enough to work.
Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief of The Dispatch and the host of The Remnant podcast. His Twitter handle is @JonahDispatch.