Republicans, in first impeachment hearing, say evidence points to Biden’s corruption, cover-up

House lawmakers launched their impeachment inquiry into President Biden on Thursday with newly released documents that they said strengthen their claims that he helped his son secure foreign business deals and that the Justice Department worked to cover up those actions.

Some documents included messages and emails from the president’s brother James Biden and son Hunter Biden that reference Mr. Biden’s involvement in their business deals. Other records show Justice Department efforts to stop IRS and FBI officials from investigating Mr. Biden during their probe of Hunter Biden’s alleged tax fraud and gun crimes.

Republicans said the newly released documents added to financial records and witness testimony that investigators gathered to support their decision to open an impeachment inquiry into the president.

The records also indicate that Hunter Biden was looped in on the details of a conference call the White House hosted about then-Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s upcoming trip to Ukraine in December 2015. The notes about the forthcoming trip were shared with Hunter Biden, his business associate Devon Archer and Vadym Pozharskyi, a top official at Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, which at the time was paying Hunter Biden $1 million a year to serve on its board.

“The Ways and Means Committee released new documents showing President Biden was not just aware of his son’s business dealings but he was connected to them,” said Chairman Jason Smith, Missouri Republican.

The hearing gaveled in as Congress was working to pass emergency spending legislation in time to avert a government shutdown at midnight Saturday. It opened with a partially filled dais. Even many Republicans were not in attendance for the full hearing.

Democrats condemned the hearing, led by the House Oversight and Accountability Committee. They called it an effort to help reelect former President Donald Trump and said the Republicans were wasting the time of House lawmakers facing more urgent matters.

While Republicans conducted the hearing, the White House issued statements pointing to the shutdown deadline.

Afterward, Sharon Yang, the White House spokesperson for oversight, called the hearing a “baseless stunt” built on “debunked lies.”

“This flop was a failed effort to distract from their own chaos and inability to govern that is careening the country towards an unnecessary government shutdown that will hurt American families,” the spokesperson said.

Democrats have long dismissed the Republican claim that then-Vice President Biden worked to fire Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin on behalf of his son and Burisma. The evidence Republicans put forward Thursday did nothing to convince them.

“We’re 62 hours away from shutting down the government of the USA, and Republicans are launching an impeachment drive based on a long-debunked and discredited lie,” said the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

Republicans at the hearing presented evidence and laid out a timeline that they said showed a pattern of Mr. Biden’s involvement in Hunter Biden’s foreign business deals that later led to lucrative payoffs for the family. They said Mr. Biden’s actions date to his second term as vice president and extend into his presidential campaign.

Lawmakers read transcripts of testimony that Biden business associate Tony Bobulinski provided this year to the Ways and Means Committee. Mr. Bobulinski said Hunter Biden, James Biden and associates worked with CEFC, an energy company aligned with the Chinese Communist Party, to secure deals in Poland, Romania, Oman and the Middle East in 2015 and 2016. Mr. Bobulinski testified that the Bidens and their associates did not want to be paid while Mr. Biden was serving as vice president.

As soon as Mr. Biden left office in 2017, the CEFC paid James and Hunter Biden and associates more than $1 million. “Now we know why,” said Rep. Nancy Mace, North Carolina Republican. “It was back pay.”

The 700 pages of documents that the committee made public provided an inside look at Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Wolf’s efforts to shield Mr. Biden from any part of the inquiry, including her order to strip a reference to him from a search warrant while he was running for president.

IRS and FBI agents in the summer of 2020 were investigating Hunter Biden over tax fraud and foreign lobbying violations. The investigation led them to pursue a search warrant of Mr. Biden’s property, where Hunter Biden had been living.

In August 2020, Ms. Wolf responded that “there should be nothing about Political Figure 1 in here,” a reference to Mr. Biden, then the Democratic nominee for president.

Through their impeachment inquiry, House lawmakers are now following the trail of evidence that they say will prove Mr. Biden acted corruptly.

House Oversight Chairman James Comer, Kentucky Republican, said bank financial records have revealed more than $20 million in profits from the foreign business deals, many of them dating to Mr. Biden’s time as vice president, and much of the money flowing into the bank accounts of nine Biden family members.

All of it belies Mr. Biden’s insistence that he had no involvement in his son’s foreign deals, lawmakers said.

“He lied by telling the American people that there was an absolute wall between his official government duties and his personal life,” Mr. Comer said. “Let’s be clear. There was no wall. The door was wide open to those who purchased what a business associate described as the Biden brand.”

To make their case for impeaching Mr. Biden, lawmakers invited Eileen O’Connor, who formerly supervised tax cases for the Justice Department, forensic accountant Bruce Dubinsky and George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley as witnesses.

Mr. Turley said the Republicans had enough evidence to launch an impeachment inquiry but no more than that.

“I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment,” he told the House oversight committee. “But I also do believe that the House has passed the threshold for an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Biden.”

The witness for the Democrats, University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt, who worked for Democrats on President Trump’s second impeachment trial, said the Biden impeachment inquiry is unjustified because the Republicans had no evidence of wrongdoing by the president.

“The problem is that the dots are not connected,” Mr. Gerhardt said. “The name that’s been repeated most often in this hearing is Hunter Biden, not President Biden. And the point of an impeachment inquiry is not about the president’s son. It has to be about the president himself.”

Lawmakers plan to seek bank account records from Hunter Biden and James Biden and other financial documents that may be easier to obtain in an impeachment inquiry and could tie Mr. Biden more directly to the financial deals.

The oversight committee this week made public two wire transfers sent to Hunter Biden in the summer of 2019 from Chinese nationals totaling $260,000. The wires were sent to Mr. Biden’s address in Wilmington, Delaware.

Most of the money, which arrived at Mr. Biden’s home as he was launching his presidential bid, came from Jonathan Li, one of Hunter Biden’s business partners. Mr. Li had met with Vice President Biden in Beijing and had talked with him by phone. Mr. Biden later wrote college recommendation letters for Mr. Li’s children.

“This is a tale as old as time. Politician takes action that makes money for his family, and then he tries to conceal it,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican.

Democrats on the panel said the impeachment inquiry was based on lies and conspiracy theories, including the Republican claim that Mr. Biden worked to oust Mr. Shokin, the Ukrainian prosecutor general, because he was investigating Burisma. Although Mr. Biden later boasted that he forced out Mr. Shokin by threatening to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees, Democrats said Mr. Biden acted because Mr. Shokin was not doing enough to battle corruption in Ukraine.

“If the Republicans had a smoking gun, or even a dripping water pistol, they would be presenting it today. But they’ve got nothing on Joe Biden,” Mr. Raskin said.