Five takeaways from Hunter Biden IRS whistleblower hearing

Republicans and Democrats sparred over the significance of the tax crimes investigation into Hunter Biden at a House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday that featured two IRS whistleblowers, with the GOP arguing the president’s son was spared from true justice while Democrats argued he was thoroughly investigated by a team formed under the former president and led by a Trump-appointed attorney.

IRS special agent Joseph Ziegler and his supervisor, Gary Shapley, who investigated Biden, expressed frustration over how U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss and other prosecutors handled the investigation, alleging authorities slow-walked the case and showed preferential treatment to the president’s son.

The House Ways and Means Committee had previously interviewed the two whistleblowers privately and released transcripts just days after prosecutors reached an agreement for Biden to plead guilty to two charges of willful failure to pay taxes.

The nearly six-hour hearing relayed little information not already covered in the nearly 400 pages of testimony from the two men, with the whistleblowers saying they could not answer questions outside the scope of that testimony.

But the hearing was revelatory about how both sides of the aisle could use that testimony.

Here are five takeaways from the hearing.

Democrats say testimony shows common disagreements

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)

Democrats largely sought to cast the whistleblowers’ complaints as common disagreements between investigative staff and prosecutors, who often have reservations about scoring convictions on evidence discovered by staff.

Ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said the testimony showed a “traditional tug-of-war” between investigators and prosecutors, using as an example the recent indictment of former President Trump on charges of mishandling classified documents, where prosecutors focused on a small number of alleged crimes even though investigators said they found more violations.

Shapley, though, pushed back on that assertion, saying that assistant U.S. attorneys and attorneys in the Department of Justice (DOJ) tax division had agreed with a number of recommended charges, but not all were ultimately pursued.

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) similarly argued that investigators and attorneys often view a case differently.

“I never met an agent who didn’t want to charge every possible case. But what I noticed in five hours of testimony today is that neither one of you has ever mentioned a portion of the case that may not be so strong, or may be suspect or may have a defense,” Goldman said, referencing his work as a prosecutor.

“And that’s because that’s what the prosecutor has to think about before charging a case.”

Ziegler testified that Weiss offered a rationale for not pursuing charges for some tax years, worried that testimony about Biden’s personal life at that time could sour the changes of conviction.

Democrats also argued that, contrary to the whistleblowers’ assertion, it sounded like Biden’s tax history was subject to a rigorous review by investigators and prosecutors.

More on the hearing from The Hill

“It sounds like Hunter Biden’s taxes were subject to a great deal of scrutiny and rigorous review by a large team of expert investigators who had experience working complex cases. … The time, personnel and all the resources devoted to this investigation make it abundantly clear that this investigation was taken seriously by both the IRS and DOJ,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

“While our witnesses here today may disagree with the U.S. attorney’s decisions, it is undeniable that Hunter Biden was subject to a thorough and rigorous investigation.”

Jordan accuses Weiss of changing his story

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)

Republicans’ recent interest in impeaching Attorney General Merrick Garland centers on a key detail from Shapley’s testimony: Weiss, he said, sought and was denied special counsel status as he attempted to bring charges outside Delaware, with U.S. attorneys in other jurisdictions allegedly being opposed to him bringing charges on their turf.

Weiss has said he never asked for special counsel status — and says he was assured he would be granted special attorney status through another statute if he wished to file charges outside his district.

Weiss has outlined in both a June 7 letter and a July 10 letter that he has “never been denied the authority to bring charges in any jurisdiction.”

But House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who also sits on the Oversight Committee, mischaracterized the letters, arguing that Weiss “change[d] his story.”

“What happened in between those two events?” Jordan said of the letters. “Your testimony went public. He goes, ‘Oh, my goodness, I gotta change my story, because now the truth is coming out.’”

Weiss’s second letter includes more detail about his dealings with DOJ leaders, saying he was assured he would be granted special attorney status if needed well in advance of the meeting where Shapley asserts he said otherwise.

“When you look at the letters he actually sent, he didn’t change his tune at all. He said the exact same thing every time, and he even expanded the answer to be perfectly clear,” Raskin said.

Whether Weiss had interest in either of the two statuses is largely of interest to Republicans as a way to forward a potential impeachment inquiry into Garland, as he assured lawmakers that Weiss had “full authority … to bring cases in other districts if he needs to do that.”

Shapley undercuts Garland impeachment effort

Attorney General Merrick Garland
Attorney General Merrick Garland

Shapley also undercut another key factor fueling the GOP’s interest in impeaching Garland, saying he has no evidence that Garland intentionally misled Congress about Weiss’s authority.

“Let me be clear, although these facts contradict the attorney general’s testimony and raise serious questions for you to investigate, I have never claimed evidence that Attorney General Garland knowingly lied to Congress,” Shapley said Wednesday.

“This for others to investigate and determine whether those letters contain knowingly false statements. … I don’t claim to be privy to United States Attorney Weiss’s or Attorney General Garland’s communications.”

Democrats suggested that the whistleblowers may have been confused over two statuses prosecutors can attain — appointment as a special counsel, versus the special attorney status Weiss was assured he could receive if desired.

Ziegler in his testimony asserted he still believes a more independent status is needed by those handling the investigation.

“I still think that a special counsel is necessary for this investigation,” he said.

Greene overshadows hearing with ‘parental discretion advised’ moment

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the hearing came when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) brought sexually explicit — but censored — posters of Hunter Biden in to make her point.

“Before we begin, I would like to let the committee and everyone watching at home that parental discretion is advised,” Greene said.

Greene’s questioning included her holding up small posters featuring graphic sexual photos from the laptop hard drive that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden, censored with black boxes.

The faces of others involved in the sexual acts were censored with black boxes, but Biden’s face is visible in the photos.

Her focus on the explicit and salacious history of Biden, who has been public about his struggles with addiction, stands in contrast to Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer’s (R-Ky.) past indications that the focus of the committee’s investigation of the Biden family’s business dealings would not focus on his personal actions.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said Greene’s move to show “pornographic images” marked “a new low” for the committee.

“Frankly, I don’t care who you are in this country, no one deserves that. It is abuse. It is abusive,” she said.

Democrats argue GOP distracts from injustice for Black and brown individuals

Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio)
Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio)

Several Black lawmakers directly challenged Republican claims that the Biden plea deal shows a two-tiered system of justice, saying the argument minimizes the experiences of Black and brown Americans disproportionately impacted by the justice system.

“I’d like to address the way my Republican colleagues are attempting to co-opt the phrase ‘two-tiered justice system’ to make it sound like Trump and his cronies are somehow the victims here,” Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) said.

“The reality is that the term two-tiered system of justice is meant to refer to the very real system that exists in the United States, and which affects Black and brown folks, not powerful former presidents and their political allies.”

Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) listed off a number of statistics on disparities in the criminal justice system, including within IRS, asserting that Black taxpayers are audited at least three times more often than other taxpayers.

Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) also said Republicans were using the term improperly.

“Republicans and Trump complain about a two-tiered justice system, co-opting the language of the decades-long civil rights movement for Black lives and Black freedom, a movement that they actually are actively looking to eliminate. There is a two-tiered justice system, but it’s not about Democrats vs. Republican,” he said, before listing off a number of recent and historical examples, including those killed by police.

“It’s Black, brown and poor people versus everyone else. And I won’t accept when Republican politicians look to appropriate the language of the movement for Black lives and civil rights, to fit a political agenda to defend Donald Trump.”

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