"An unmitigated disaster": House GOP's first impeachment inquiry panned by Republicans

The Republican witnesses' testimony appeared to hurt more than help as frustration set in in the chamber

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published September 28, 2023 5:43PM (EDT)

Full committee chairman Rep. James Comer (R-KY) attends a House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations and Federal Workforce hearing on Capitol Hill May 17, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Full committee chairman Rep. James Comer (R-KY) attends a House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations and Federal Workforce hearing on Capitol Hill May 17, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The House Oversight Committee's first hearing for the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden got off to a rocky start Thursday as the Republican witnesses' testimony appeared to hurt the committee more than help and frustration set in in the chamber. 

In his written testimony to the committee, Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor pulled by Republicans as a key witness for the hearing, called into question the evidence Republicans have claimed to gather against Biden, who they allege benefitted from his son, Hunter Biden's, overseas business dealings during his vice presidency.

"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," wrote Turley, who has testified at impeachment hearings for former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, and, as he noted in the document, substantiated the two articles of impeachment during the latter's inquiry that the House later adopted.

He reiterated this statement during the hearing, testifying to the committee that he, in fact, does not "believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment."

While Turley based his support for the opening of a formal inquiry into the elder Biden on the evidence Republicans touted, outlined in the written testimony, and polls reflecting the public's levels of concern over the president's alleged misconduct, he declared that his appearance before the committee Thursday would not be to discuss any evidence of President Biden's wrongdoing himself, leaving that task to the other witnesses. His testimony, instead, set out to advise the committee on the "historical and legal aspects of this inquiry" by offering a perspective of the "guardrails" for launching them in hopes of prompting the House to "restore important procedural and due process protections" to the process that he believes recent impeachment inquiries have departed from.

Restoring these safeguards "will demand something that is never easy for a majority, namely, voluntarily accepting limits on their own ability to impeach," Turley wrote. "However, the committees carrying out this inquiry could repair what I view as an erosion of best practices in the investigation of presidents."

Despite Turley's citation of polls indicating in his written testimony the public's "deep distrust" of the Justice Department's ability to fairly investigate the president and his son, a national NBC News survey found that 56% of registered voters do not support the committee holding impeachment hearings for President Biden. 

An overwhelming majority of those who oppose the hearings are Democrats. 73% of Republicans, meanwhile, support the proceedings. Six in 10 independents oppose the proceedings, while 29% believe Congress should carry them out. 

Unlike during the Trump era, NBC News notes, the prospect of Biden's impeachment is less influential for current voters with half of them saying their congresspeople's votes to impeach and remove Biden from office "would make no difference either way" in how they might vote in their local congressional races in 2024. In December 2018, 34% noted their legislators' votes on whether to impeach Trump would not influence their vote. 

Just as Turley declined to provide any evidence to the committee, the other Republican witnesses did not either, as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., established during the hearing.

Ocasio-Cortez first asked Turley if he would be "presenting any first-hand witness account of crimes committed by the president of the United States." After the legal scholar responded in the negative, she asked the same of the two remaining Republican witnesses — forensic accountant Bruce Dubinsky and Eileen O'Connor, an attorney of federal administrative and tax law. They both responded, "I have not."

"I shouldn't have asked Turley a question," Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert reportedly complained to an aide on Thursday. "He was a crappy witness."

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Other Democratic committee members further questioned the absence of evidence from the witnesses with one asking why Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor-turned-personal attorney for Trump, wasn't called to testify given his previous side quest in Ukraine to find information on the elder Biden.

"When I walked into this hearing room, my first question was, 'Where's Rudy Giuliani?'" Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said. 

"This is supposed to be an inquiry on the facts against the president for potentially an impeachment, articles of impeachment," Lynch continued. "The one person, the one person, who was an agent of President Donald Trump, was sent to Ukraine to dig up dirt, find some dirt on Joe Biden.

"Just like [Trump] said to the election officials in Georgia, 'find me 11,780 votes.' [He said to Giuliani] 'Find me some dirt on Joe Biden.' And we do not have him here? We are not allowed to ask him questions," Lynch added before reading off a transcript of a call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In the exchange, Trump is "actually placing Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine with the imprimatur of authority for the president," Lynch said, addressing minority witness, Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor. "Professor Gerhardt, would it not be helpful to have a factual witness here?"

"It seems obvious he should be brought before the committee," Gerhardt responded. 

Frustration also consumed the GOP during the impeachment hearing, according to CNN, who were aggravated by their witnesses' testimony countering their narrative and saying that there's no evidence of Biden's crimes.

"Picking witnesses that refute House Republicans arguments for impeachment is mind blowing. This is an unmitigated disaster," a senior Republican aide told CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona.

When Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., did call a point of order during the hearing to present evidence, however, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., refused to recognize it.

"You're out of order, Mr. Goldman," Comer said, speaking over the representative, who asserted that he should be able to call the point of order, and insisting on giving the floor to Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., to speak.

"I have a point of order. I asked to introduce something by unanimous consent. Is it being introduced?" Goldman asked Comer, who continued to steamroll over him and call for Donalds to speak. "The rules require you to recognize me," Goldman added.

"No," Comer responded flatly before the two briefly continued the back-and-forth about the point of order.

"Mr. Chairman, can I just make a parliamentary inquiry then. Are we not to make points of order on either side during the questioning?" Goldman asked once Comer returned attention to Donalds.

"You keep speaking about no evidence. Why don't you all just listen and learn?" Comer replied.

"I'm trying to introduce evidence!" Goldman explained, seemingly hardening his tone in frustration.

"You've already had your share of evidence," Comer responded before returning focus to Donalds. 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced the impeachment inquiry — to be led by the House Judiciary, Oversight and Ways and Means committees — into the president earlier this month following House Republicans' months-long investigation into the president that, notably, failed to kick up any substantial evidence of the elder Biden's wrongdoing with regards to his son's activities. 

His decision to launch the inquiry added fuel to the firey tensions in the House GOP with his colleagues split over whether an impeachment inquiry into the president — alongside the far-right members' intense focus on Hunter Biden's personal legal woes — is necessary.

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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Aggregate Aoc Gop House Oversight Committee James Comer Joe Biden Josh Turley Politics Rudy Giuliani