House Republicans fired their opening salvo on Wednesday in a new phase of their investigation into Hunter Biden: vetting allegations of interference in the yearslong federal probe of the First Son.
The high-profile Oversight Committee hearing marked the first public testimony from Gary Shapley, the IRS whistleblower at the center of the interference allegations, and Joseph Ziegler — previously known as “whistleblower X.” The two addressed their claims of broad meddling by federal authorities in the case, including that the Justice Department consistently slow-walked their work and that prosecutors tipped off Hunter Biden’s attorneys about leads they were planning to pursue.
The hearing provided little new information about the allegations themselves — a dynamic that top Republicans predicted in advance. Instead, the GOP portrayed it more as an opportunity to get the duo’s narrative in the public sphere and elevate a pair of witnesses they view as the “A-team.”
Despite the lack of any concrete new material, the hearing is likely to fuel calls from conservatives to impeach Attorney General Merrick Garland. And partisan tensions still flared throughout the proceedings, with Democrats denouncing the GOP investigation as part of a smear campaign against President Joe Biden while the pair of whistleblowers defended their credibility.
Here are the top takeaways from both parties’ arguments during the hearing.
GOP: Who’s more credible?
Republicans contended that — given that the whistleblowers and U.S. Attorney David Weiss offer different recollections about whether the Hunter Biden case’s lead prosecutor had the full authority to pursue charges — the public should put their trust in the two IRS veterans. Shapley and Ziegler, the GOP noted, have years of investigative experience at the agency between them.
“Who [are] you going to believe? The Justice Department can’t get their story straight, changed three times in 33 days — or these two guys?” House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said in his opening statement. “I’ll believe these guys. I think they’re the ones telling the truth. And that is fundamentally what this comes down to.”
Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) used his time to excoriate Democrats for their treatment of the whistleblowers and denounce Hunter Biden’s attorneys for mounting what he called a campaign to discredit the pair.
Democrats countered that they want to hear from Weiss, who said recently that he is willing to testify before Congress at a date yet to be arranged. Jordan said Weiss’ appearance, which isn’t expected before Hunter Biden appears in court next week regarding the federal plea deal he’s reached, is under negotiation between DOJ and congressional staffers.
Democrats were careful to not try to question the whistleblowers’ motives, focusing most of their rhetorical fire on their GOP colleagues’ investigation.
“We can conclude that this Inspector Clouseau-style quest for something that doesn’t exist has turned our committee into a theater of the absurd, an exercise in futility and embarrassment,” said the Oversight panel’s ranking member, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).
Democrats lean into ‘prosecutorial discretion’ and Trump
Democrats instead focused much of their energy during the hearing on contending that Weiss made a routine decision to not move forward with a broader array of charges against Hunter Biden, despite recommendations by the IRS whistleblowers to pursue a bigger case.
“It seems to me that a lot of your testimony [is] about the problem of prosecutorial discretion and the traditional tug of war between investigators … and prosecutors, who are more attuned to the rigors of the courtroom,” Raskin told the two whistleblowers.
That line of questioning sparked pushback from Shapley, in particular.
“Each time you say this is a disagreement. You can say it multiple times but it doesn’t make it true,” Shapley said after Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said he thought the committee was “spending hours on a disagreement” between Weiss and the two investigators.
Democrats have touted part of a closed-door interview the Oversight panel conducted this week with a former FBI official who said — according to a readout from Raskin — that it was “routine” for FBI agents and DOJ prosecutors to “disagree about investigative steps and charging decisions.”
While the whistleblower allegations center around Hunter Biden, Democrats also routinely pointed back to former President Donald Trump’s administration. That strategy was two-fold: to drive home that many of the decisions homed in on by the two IRS whistleblowers took place during the Trump years, during a federal investigation led by a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney.
Democrats saw another upside in invoking Trump — they accused Republicans of hypocrisy of focusing on Hunter Biden’s legal and personal scandals while frequently brushing off those of the former president, who disclosed this week that he was the target of a potential third indictment.
“I want to congratulate my colleagues from across the aisle for gathering us here today, almost distracting us from the biggest investigation that is going on right now in our country and in our nation’s history — involving the former president,” Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) said.
GOP, whistleblowers outline next steps
Republicans made clear that the hearing was the first step in their investigation of the IRS whistleblower allegations, with many more to come.
Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) said that he will soon release an “supplemental memorandum” based on records the committee has received but not yet released related to payments that Hunter Biden or other family members may have received from individuals or businesses in Ukraine, Russia “and other sources.”
Comer, Smith and Jordan are conducting a sweeping investigation into the whistleblower allegations, requesting closed-door interviews with more than a dozen current DOJ, FBI and IRS officials in addition to Weiss. Jordan told POLITICO that negotiations regarding testimony are active, but nothing is scheduled yet.
Shapley also disclosed that he is also now working cooperatively to schedule a Senate appearance after Wednesday’s hearing. Both IRS investigators urged Republicans to hold additional interviews.
“My intention was not to be your sole source of information, and I implore you to take the necessary steps to obtain as much evidence as possible, from as many sources as possible, and to be able to fully inform your conclusions,” Shapley said.