Devon Archer debate focuses on Hunter Biden ‘illusion of access’

Democrats and Republicans are offering clashing interpretations of the significance of former Hunter Biden business associate Devon Archer’s closed-door testimony, which lawmakers said included assertions that Hunter Biden was selling the “illusion of access” to his father and that Hunter Biden sometimes put President Biden on speakerphone to talk to his business associates.

The revelations are fueling Republican attempts to link the president to his son’s business dealings. Republicans, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer (Ky.), say the testimony shows that President Biden “lied” when he made campaign trail statements that he had never talked to his son about his foreign business dealings.

But Democrats say Archer’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee on Monday actually shows the president was not involved in Hunter Biden’s foreign business affairs.

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who attended the hours-long transcribed interview, said Archer testified that because Hunter Biden was under pressure from Ukrainian energy company Burisma, “he had to give the illusion — and he used that term, the illusion — of access to his father, and he tried to get credit for things that he — that Mr. Archer testified Hunter had nothing to do with, such as when Vice President Biden went to Ukraine on his own.”

Lawmakers clash over whether testimony implicates president

Archer was on the board of Burisma with Hunter Biden. Republicans have said then-Vice President Biden’s call to remove Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, whose office was investigating Burisma, was directly related to his son’s involvement with, and sizable payments from, the company. 

But the investigation in Burisma had been opened before Shokin took the position, and Shokin was widely criticized for failure to prosecute corruption, with his ouster supported by numerous U.S. officials.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement that Archer testified that “President Biden was not involved in his son’s business affairs, and that President Biden was never asked to, nor did he, take any official actions in relation to those business matters.” 

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week that the president “was never in business with his son.”

On the other end of the partisan spectrum, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who also attended the transcribed interview, said he thought Archer’s testimony “implicate[s] the president.”

Reading from his notes of the transcribed interview, Biggs said Archer testified that “Burisma would have gone out of business sooner if the Biden brand had not been invoked. People would be intimidated to legally mess with Burisma because of the Biden family brand.”

According to Biggs, Archer said the Biden “brand” referred to President Biden. But Goldman later said that Archer clarified the “brand” was based on a “D.C. brand based on his own experience in lobbying” and “in conjunction with the fact that his last name was Biden.”

Burisma bribery allegations

Both Biggs and Goldman said that Archer had no knowledge of an alleged $5 million payment to Biden from Burisma, an allegation relayed by a confidential FBI source in a form released by Republicans earlier in June.

Goldman argued that Archer’s testimony undercut the premise of the Biden-Burisma bribery allegations.

“Even though it was perceived by Burisma that they had the Prosecutor General Shokin ‘under control,’ quote unquote, that Joe Biden advocated for his firing — which of course, was not coveted or desired by Burisma, and would potentially be bad for Burisma,” Goldman said.

Raskin said that Republicans appeared to be “chasing” the bribery allegations, and pointed to a recent letter to Comer from Lev Parnas, who was involved in an effort to dig up dirt about the Bidens in Ukraine ahead of the 2020 election, urging Comer to abandon efforts to chase the “conspiracy theories.”

Comer, on the other hand, took issue with Hunter Biden’s work with Burisma.

“When Burisma’s owner was facing pressure from the Ukrainian prosecutor investigating the company for corruption, Archer testified that Burisma executives asked Hunter to ‘call D.C.’ after a Burisma board meeting in Dubai,” he said in a statement, which a press release said raised concerns that Hunter Biden was in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Phone calls with the president

Archer’s testimony did appear to partially back up Comer’s statement to the New York Post last week that he expected Archer to discuss the times he witnessed Hunter Biden’s putting then-Vice President Biden on speakerphone with foreign business partners.

Democrats downplayed that concern.

“The witness indicated that Hunter spoke to his father every day, and approximately 20 times over the course of a 10-year relationship. Hunter may have put his father on the phone with any number of different people, and they never once spoke about any business dealings,” Goldman said.

“As he described it, it was all casual conversation, niceties, the weather, ‘What’s going on?’” Goldman said, adding that “there wasn't a single conversation about any of the business dealings that Hunter had.”

Democrats also stressed that there were especially frequent conversations between Hunter Biden and his father after his brother, Beau Biden, died from brain cancer in 2015.

Biggs pushed back on Goldman’s characterization.

“He probably forgot to tell you that Devon Archer himself said that was an implication of who the ‘big guy’ is,” Biggs said, referring to communications drawn from a laptop hard drive that purportedly belonged to Hunter Biden.

The House Oversight GOP also said in a tweet that President Biden attended a 2014 dinner with Hunter Biden and some of his foreign business associates at Cafe Milano in Washington, D.C.

White House slams GOP after ‘much-hyped witness’ testimony

Ian Sams, White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations, also argued that the Archer interview poked holes in the GOP attempts to directly link President Biden to his family’s foreign business dealings.

“It appears that the House Republicans’ own much-hyped witness today testified that he never heard of President Biden discussing business with his son or his son’s associates, or doing anything wrong,” Sams said. “House Republicans keep promising bombshell evidence to support their ridiculous attacks against the President, but time after time, they keep failing to produce any. In fact, even their own witnesses appear to be debunking their allegations.”

Raskin said that the Biden family investigation is a “desperate effort to distract everyone from former President Donald Trump’s mounting criminal indictments and deepening legal morass.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who was also in the interview, told reporters that Archer had revealed new information, but declined to elaborate further.

Abbe Lowell, counsel for Hunter Biden, said in a statement that House Republicans "keep swinging and keep striking out in their obsessive pursuit of the President through his son, Hunter." 

"Mr. Archer confirmed one more time that Hunter Biden did not involve his father in, nor did his father assist him in, his business. It’s well known that Hunter and his father speak daily, and what Mr. Archer confirmed today was that when those calls occurred during Hunter’s business meetings, if there was any interaction between his father and his business associates, it was simply to exchange small talk," Lowell said.

"Like the relatives of Donald Trump, Senators Ron Johnson and Ted Cruz, Rep. Lauren Boebert, and many others, family members of elected representatives meet people and may get opportunities because of those connections," he continued. "Congress would be busy investigating many of their own if that’s their idea of an offense.” 

Archer did not answer shouted questions when entering or leaving the transcribed interview, and his attorney declined to take a side in the debate over his testimony.

“We are aware that all sides are claiming victory following Mr. Archer’s voluntary interview today. But all Devon Archer did was exactly what we said he would: show up and answer the questions put to him honestly and completely. Mr. Archer shared the truth with the Committee, and we will leave to them and others to decide what to do with it,” said Matthew L. Schwartz, a managing partner of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP.

Democrat downplays Hunter Biden associate Devon Archer’s testimony

Former Hunter Biden business associate Devon Archer said during closed-door testimony that Hunter included President Biden on a number of phone calls that presumably included business associates, according to one lawmaker’s account of the testimony, a revelation that is likely to fuel Republican attempts to link the president to his son’s business dealings.

But the Democratic lawmaker said that Archer’s testimony to the House Oversight and Accountability Committee did not show that the president was involved in Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

“The witness indicated that Hunter spoke to his father every day, and approximately 20 times over the course of 10 year relationship, Hunter may have put his father on the phone with any number of different people, and they never once spoke about any business dealings,” Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) said.

“As he described it, it was all casual conversation, niceties, the weather, ‘What’s going on?’” Goldman said, adding that, “There wasn't a single conversation about any of the business dealings that Hunter had.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who was also in the interview, told reporters that Archer had revealed new information but declined to elaborate further.

The readout of the testimony appears to partially back up House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer’s (R-Ky.) statement to the New York Post last week that he expected Archer to discuss the times he “has witnessed Joe Biden meeting with Hunter Biden’s overseas business partners when he was vice president, including on speakerphone.”

Asked last week about allegations that the president had communicated directly with his son’s foreign business associates, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the president “was never in business with his son.”

The interview follows a letter from the Department of Justice over the weekend, regarding Archer’s sentencing for an unrelated matter, that is adding to GOP claims of government obstruction of their investigation into the Biden family’s business dealings — even as Archer’s attorney beat down the speculation.

The Justice Department (DOJ) in its letter requested that a judge set a date for Archer to start his one-year prison sentence for his conviction for defrauding a Native American tribe, despite Archer’s counsel saying it was “premature” to do so because of an anticipated appeal and an “error” in sentencing.

That set off alarm bells in the GOP.

"I don't know if this a coincidence, or if this is another example of the weaponization of the Department of Justice,” Comer said Sunday on Fox News.

Other Republicans went further, accusing the DOJ of explicit interference in the GOP-led investigation. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said lawmakers should return from an August recess for emergency hearings if Archer did not show up.

But Archer’s attorney stressed the letter would not impact his planned interview, which had been rescheduled multiple times since Comer subpoenaed him in June.

“We are aware of speculation that the Department of Justice’s weekend request to have Mr. Archer report to prison is an attempt by the Biden administration to intimidate him in advance of his meeting with the House Oversight Committee on Monday,” Archer’s lawyer Matthew Schwartz said in a Sunday statement, first provided to Politico. “To be clear, Mr. Archer does not agree with that speculation. In any case, Mr. Archer will do what he has planned to do all along, which is to show up on Monday and to honestly answer the questions that are put to him by the Congressional investigators.”

The DOJ said in a subsequent letter that it was not requesting that Archer surrender before his expected congressional testimony.

His appearance went on as scheduled. A smiling Archer did not answer shouted questions as he arrived at the interview with his lawyer Monday morning.

The interview will consist of four hours of questioning divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats and is expected to end mid-afternoon. In addition to Jordan and Goldman, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) attended the Archer interview.

“I believe he can tell us things we haven’t heard before,” Biggs said.

Goldman cast doubt on the GOP attempts to link the president to his son’s business dealings.

“We're all waiting for any pin, whether it be a linchpin or other pin, to figure out how this is connected at all to President Biden,” Goldman said.

Updated at 2:02 p.m.

McCarthy to talk to Republican who yelled expletives at Senate pages

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Friday said he plans to talk to Rep. Derrick Van Orden (R-Wis.) about his expletive-laced confrontation with teenage Senate pages early Thursday morning.

“I haven’t been able to speak to him yet. I’ll call him today. I don’t know the situation, I saw what was reported,” McCarthy told reporters Friday.

“That’s not the norm of Derrick Van Orden,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy said that he had spoken to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about the incident with the pages, who assist Senate operations. The two congressional leaders had a pre-planned meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss government funding.

McCarthy said the whole incident might be a “misunderstanding.”

"I guess the interns have some ritual laying down, or something like that. I think it's a misunderstanding on all sides from what's going on,” McCarthy said.

A transcript written by a page minutes after the incident, and obtained by The Hill, recalled Van Orden calling a group of 16- and 17-year-old pages “jackasses” and “pieces of s‑‑‑” for lying in the Capitol rotunda early Thursday morning. The rotunda is a common spot for pages to relax when Senate business goes late.

Van Orden did not dispute the account of him cursing at Senate pages, telling The Hill that he thought the Capitol Rotunda should be “treated with a tremendous amount of respect for the dead” because it was used as a field hospital during the Civil War.

“If anyone had been laying a series of graves in Arlington National Cemetery, what do you think people would say?” Van Orden said.

Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday that he was “shocked” when he heard about the incident.

“I am further shocked at his refusal to apologize to these young people,” Schumer said.

“I can’t speak for the House of Representatives, but I do not think that one member’s disrespect is shared by this body, by [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)] and myself.”

McConnell said he agreed with Schumer.

“Everybody on this side of the aisle feels exactly the same way,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Punchbowl News first reported that Van Orden had yelled at the Senate pages.

House GOP leaders to start recess early after being forced to punt funding bill

House Republican leaders punted plans to pass an appropriations bill to fund agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to September amid internal discord about funding levels and policy gripes, canceling Friday floor votes and starting August recess a day early.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) announced on the House floor that votes would no longer be expected Friday.

“We will be finished for the August work period” after last votes Thursday afternoon, Scalise said.

The move to punt the bill comes as House conservatives have pressured GOP leaders to further slash the funding levels in the bill — and in other funding bills. Moderate lawmakers, meanwhile, have taken issue with a provision in the ag-FDA legislation that would limit access to an abortion pill.

Punting a bill sets up a September scramble to fund the government after the House returns from a six-week recess. The House is scheduled to be in session for just 12 days before a Sept. 30 funding deadline.

Senate appropriators are also marking up spending bills at levels higher than the House GOP is, laying the foundation for a clash between the two chambers in the fall.

Indications that the ag-FDA bill would be punted emerged Wednesday, when the House Rules Committee — which had been preparing the bill to come to the floor — did not come back to finish considering legislation Wednesday evening as negotiations between conservatives and leadership continued.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House GOP appropriators had already agreed to set overall top-line spending levels lower than the caps set out in the debt limit bill that McCarthy negotiated with President Biden. That infuriated Democrats, who pledge to vote against the House funding bills — leaving McCarthy in the difficult position of getting the slim GOP majority on board with the bills to pass them alone.

The House on Thursday passed its first appropriations bill to fund military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs largely along party lines.

Another point of contention in the ag-FDA bill is a provision that would nullify a Biden administration rule allowing the abortion pill mifepristone to be sold in retail pharmacies and by mail with prescriptions from a certified health care provider.

Moderate Republicans have been vocal in their opposition to the provision, warning that they will not support the bill unless it is stripped. 

But one GOP lawmaker suggested those who object to the mifepristone measure are in no hurry to take it out because it gives them a reason to “delay the whole damn thing” amid disagreement with the Freedom Caucus members and other conservatives pushing for cuts.

“Freedom Caucus wants deeper cuts, we can’t possibly accept that,” the GOP lawmaker told The Hill.

House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark (Mass.) tore into Republicans for delaying the vote and piling up spending bill votes in September, arguing that lawmakers should stay in Washington to strip out the "divisive" measures in the bills.

"Extremists are holding your conference hostage," Clark said.

"This is a reckless march to a MAGA shutdown," she added.

McCarthy unites fractious GOP with impeachment talk

Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) flirtation with impeaching President Biden is pleasing the right wing of his conference while not scaring moderates, keeping his fractious conference together while setting up the real possibility of a third presidential impeachment in less than five years.

The increased talk of impeachment comes as the GOP dives further into investigations of Hunter Biden, who on Wednesday saw his plea agreement get placed on hold after a federal judge questioned the scope of the deal.  

The drive also has heavy political implications, with attacks on Biden and his family being fertile ground ahead of the 2024 election, especially with the economy rebounding in a way that could help the White House.

But going too far poses the risk of turning off swing-district voters and endangering moderates in McCarthy’s conference. Those members back investigating Biden, but they might not support an impeachment vote. 

McCarthy’s efforts so far have threaded this needle as he insists that he will never pursue impeachment for “political purposes.”

“The Speaker has said that there may be an impeachment inquiry. That is not impeachment,” said Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), who represents a district Biden won in 2020. “That is Congress continuing its responsibilities to look into the issues that have been raised.”

“Are they producing enough facts and evidence that warrant taking it to the next step? I don't think it's there at the moment. But these committees are doing their job,” Lawler said.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), another swing district Republican, said an impeachment inquiry effort poses an electoral risk “if it looks like it's rushed and we're not doing due process and due diligence.”

“But if we're very thorough about it. … I think the voters will feel differently,” Bacon said.

In a closed-door conference meeting Wednesday, McCarthy put no timeline on starting an impeachment probe and urged members not to overstate the evidence obtained so far, according to several GOP members.

Conservatives who have been pushing for the impeachment of Biden administration officials generally offered support for McCarthy’s approach as they try to pull the Speaker to the right on a host of other policy and spending matters.

“I don’t think there’s any question that him speaking to that has caused a paradigm shift,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said of McCarthy floating an impeachment inquiry.

McCarthy and other Republicans point to numerous issues they see stemming from information compiled from IRS whistleblowers who allege prosecutors slow-walked the Hunter Biden tax crime investigation, and from financial records they obtained that show President Biden falsely denied his family made money from China.

“Let's just say there's a whole hell of a lot of smoke, and our job is to present the fire,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), adding he would support an impeachment inquiry against Biden.

Not all conservatives are pleased, though. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) sees impeachment talk as a distraction from the right flank’s push to get McCarthy to agree to lower spending levels in appropriations bills.

“This is impeachment theater,” Buck said on CNN Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s responsible for us to talk about impeachment. When you start raising the 'I' word, it starts sending a message to the public, and it sets expectations.”

Republicans have not proven President Biden was part of any of Hunter Biden’s business activities, interfered in his criminal case, or directly financially benefited from his son’s foreign business dealings. 

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has repeatedly said the president “was never in business with his son.

And Ian Sams, White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations, tweeted on Monday night that McCarthy was focusing on impeachment inquiry “instead of focusing on the real issues Americans want us to address like continuing to lower inflation or create jobs.”

McCarthy suggested a potential impeachment inquiry could not center directly on those issues, but instead on the Biden administration’s cooperation with the House GOP probes.

“If the departments in government, just like Richard Nixon used, deny us the ability to get the information we’re asking, that would rise to an impeachment inquiry,” McCarthy said on Tuesday.

Republicans also argue the weight of a formal impeachment inquiry would give the House more power to get the information it seeks from its various investigations.

“If we don't have access to the information, then you do have to escalate the oversight of the House,” Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.), another Biden-district Republican, echoed after a GOP conference meeting on Wednesday.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that when he was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee setting up impeachment of former President Donald Trump four years ago, his theory that an impeachment inquiry would give more weight to enforcing subpoenas did not pan out.

“We thought that it puts the weight of the House behind the request, not just the weight of a committee,” Nadler said. “It didn’t work.”

Democrats are scoffing at the GOP impeachment effort. Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison suggested McCarthy’s interest in impeaching Biden was a way for him to do the “bidding” of Trump — though McCarthy told reporters Tuesday he had not talked to the former president about a potential impeachment inquiry.

“I don't think that they've been prevented from getting information that they want. I think the biggest problem they have is all of the information that they've gotten does not support their overreaching and unsubstantiated conclusions and allegations,” said Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.). “He is using that as an excuse to start an impeachment inquiry without any evidence of wrongdoing.”

And while the House GOP conference is largely lining up behind McCarthy as he floats impeachment for now, there is potential for frustrations to flare if members resist efforts to move forward on an actual inquiry in the future.

“At this point, I don't know how there can’t be support for it. Any Republican that can't move forward on impeachment with all the information and overwhelming evidence that we have — I really don't know why they're here, to be honest with you,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). 

UFOs, UAPs and angels: Lawmakers have different views on extraterrestrial explanations

As the House prepares to hear from a UFO whistleblower who claims the U.S. is concealing evidence of nonhuman craft, the question looms over members of Congress: Are we alone?

Many members insist they have not seriously considered the question or are keeping their concern focused on national security risks from not knowing the cause of UFO sightings.

But some members say they have seen enough to think that the unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAPs) — a more recent term for sightings of strange objects or effects in the sky — are of nonhuman extraterrestrial origin.

“It’s either something extraterrestrial, or something extraterrestrial that they reverse-engineered,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.), a leader of Wednesday’s UAP hearing, said when asked about the possibility of the sightings being secret Chinese or Russian technology.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) also said he thinks the UAPs were of nonhuman extraterrestrial origin.

“Listen, God made a phenomenal planet with phenomenal people, even though we disagree, we have our own issues. I don’t think we’re the only ones in the universe,” Donalds said.

“Do I think that our federal government has hidden information from the American people? 100 percent. Not even close,” he added. 

But while most of the focus around the UAPs is on whether their source is dangerous technology from adversaries such as China or Russia or extraterrestrial, some people have pointed to a third explanation behind the sightings. 

“I’m a Christian and I believe the Bible,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). “I think that to me, honestly – I’ve looked into it. And I think we have to question if it’s more of the spiritual realm. Angels, or fallen angels. And that’s my honest opinion.”

Wednesday’s hearing will feature David Grusch, a former intelligence official who is now a whistleblower alleging that the government is concealing evidence of a crash retrieval program focused on wreckage of “nonhuman origin.”

“These are retrieving nonhuman origin technical vehicles, call it spacecraft if you will. Nonhuman exotic origin vehicles that have either landed or crashed,” Grusch told NewsNation last month, going as far as to suggest that some crash retrievals have included recovery of “dead pilots.”

In the UFO enthusiast community, Grusch’s claims were a bombshell. But they did not land that way with all members of Congress.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) brushed off a recent question about whether he believes in extraterrestrial life.

“I will continue to see, but I think if we had found a UFO, I think the Department of Defense would tell us, because they probably want to request more money,” McCarthy said. “I’m very supportive of letting the American public see whatever we have.”

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, also rebuffed concern about UAPs and their origins.

“There are so many things that we get an opportunity to dig into and talk about here. It’s really the reason why people run for Congress, is to help their constituents and to weigh in on serious things. And this is just not in my top 20 that constituents in my district are asking me about or talking about,” Aguilar said.

But there is some UFO and UAP alarm among leaders on the other side of the Capitol.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) spearheaded an amendment that was added to the chamber’s annual defense bill that would require government records related to UAPs be declassified and disclosed unless a review board says they must be kept classified.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently told The Hill that he is concerned about the national security implications of the UAPs and the whistleblower claims.

“Either A, they’re telling the truth or some version of the truth, or B, we have a bunch of people with high clearances and really important jobs in our government [who] are nuts. Both are a problem,” Rubio said.

But do not expect any hard answers in the meeting about whether Earth has been visited by aliens.

“I don’t think we’re gonna get into little green men,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), who is helping lead Wednesday’s UAP hearing.

The focus, he said, is on government transparency about UAPs.

“What does the government know? And why aren’t they telling the American people?” Moskowitz said. “Even just trying to get this hearing done — there are different factions of the government that tried to stop the hearing from happening. Why?”

Last year, a House Intelligence subcommittee held a rare open hearing on UAPs, with lawmakers seeking to destigmatize reporting of the sightings and stressing that they are a national security concern. But it did little to provide an explanation for the hundreds of recorded UAP encounters.

“I’m on the Intelligence Committee, and yes, we do have hearings on this stuff,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio). But while most of those are closed hearings, Wenstrup said they “might as well be open,” alluding to a lack of explanation about the encounters.

Despite the intense outside interest, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is leaving exploration of the topic to Burchett and Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.).

“I’m just gonna sit there. I’m gonna yield my time to Luna,” Comer said. “I’m just there to listen and learn.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), top Democrat on the Oversight panel, said that bipartisan interest in UAPs is a “positive thing.” But as of last week, he had not deeply looked into the issue.

“With climate change and extreme fanaticism running loose on earth, other planets are seeming more and more attractive to people,” Raskin said. “So, I don’t blame them for wanting to have this hearing.”

Resolution to censure Marjorie Taylor Greene brought by House Democrat

First-term Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) is leading a resolution to censure Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) over her controversial comments and actions, with the most recent being the Georgia Republican displaying censored sexual images of the president’s son Hunter Biden in a hearing last week.

The resolution introduced Tuesday is a laundry list of around 40 points of grievance against Greene, many of which list her specific comments and the dates on which she said them.

In addition to Greene's showing images of Hunter Biden, the resolution takes issue with Greene visiting Jan. 6 inmates in a Washington jail and calling it the “patriot wing," calling Muslim members of Congress part of the “Jihad Squad," and appearing at a white nationalist event — although Greene later said she had no idea the event was linked to white nationalism and condemned its leader. The resolution also cites Greene's comparing COVID-19 vaccinations to Nazis forcing Jewish people to wear a star, along with other grievances.

“For me, censuring Rep. Taylor Greene is about the health of our democracy and faith in government. Her antisemitic, racist, transphobic rhetoric has no place in the House of Representatives,” Balint said in a statement.

“I ran for Congress after watching on January 6th that anti-democratic messages and fear-mongering have real consequences for our democracy. Unserious elected officials like Taylor Greene make a mockery of our democratic institutions and derail us from the urgent work we’ve been tasked with,” Balint said. “This job is about alleviating suffering and supporting our communities, and instead Taylor Greene uses her position as a megaphone for conspiracy theories and hate speech. There must be a counterforce that comes from within Congress. It begins with principled members standing up and saying we have had enough.”

The resolution was introduced as privileged, Balint’s office said, meaning that she can make a privileged motion in the future to force floor action on the measure. There is not yet any plan for Balint to make a privileged motion to force a vote.

More from The Hill

Greene brushed off the resolution shortly after its introduction Tuesday.

“I don't know who this freshman Democrat is. They must have terrible fundraising numbers because they're pulling some ridiculous stunt,” Greene said. “Looks like four pages of slander, because I looked at the first few lines and I was like, ‘That's not even true.’”

“I could care less,” Greene added.

Greene has been reprimanded by Democrats in the past, but not officially censured by the House. When Democrats controlled the House in 2021, Greene was stripped of her committee assignments soon after being sworn into office as punishment for her posts about conspiracy theories and liking a Facebook comment that called for the assassination of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Balint mentioned that in her resolution.

Greene’s display of sexual images of Hunter Biden in a committee hearing also prompted an ethics complaint from Biden’s attorney last week. 

Introducing the resolution as privileged adds to a trend of lawmakers introducing censure resolutions against each other and making privileged motions.

Last week, a group of Democrats introduced a privileged resolution to censure Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has been charged with financial crimes. And last month, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) forced a vote on her resolution to censure Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) over his role in investigating former President Donald Trump.

--Updated on July 26 at 9:19 a.m.

GOP braces for Republican vs. Republican spending fight in House

House Republicans are bracing for fights over spending as GOP leadership aims to bring the first two of 12 appropriations bills to the floor this week, despite vocal criticism from the party’s right flank over not cutting enough spending.

Democrats are not expected to give the GOP any help with passing the funding bills, leaving Republicans to pass them with just a slim majority — creating the very real possibility that the GOP will be short on votes.

How the GOP deals with the first two bills ahead of a long August recess will set the tone for expected spending showdowns ahead of a Sept. 30 government funding deadline, and potentially bigger spending showdowns with the Senate this fall.

Hard-line conservatives have long pressed Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to further slash spending in the House bills, aiming to take the most extreme position ahead of expected funding negotiations with the Senate this fall.

A group of 21 House Republicans, made up of mostly members of the House Freedom Caucus and their allies, wrote in a letter to the Speaker earlier this month that they plan to vote against spending bills they think contain insufficient overall cuts.

The two measures scheduled for House consideration this week are the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and military construction bill, along with the agriculture, rural development and Food and Drug Administration bill. The first actually boosts funding for the VA, in an effort to combat Democratic talking points that claimed Republicans would slash benefits for veterans.

A main disagreement between the right flank and GOP, referenced in the letter earlier this month, is over “reallocated rescissions to increase discretionary spending above that top-line,” decrying what some have called a “budgetary gimmick” to include clawbacks of previously approved spending in getting to fiscal 2022 levels. 

The House Freedom Caucus is set to hold a press conference with the president of advocacy group FreedomWorks on Tuesday morning about the appropriations bills. 

“Democrats intentionally funded a bloated federal bureaucracy, and if we don’t reset discretionary spending now, Republicans are effectively accepting and enshrining absurd COVID levels,” FreedomWorks said in a post urging the public to demand lower spending levels.

Some conservatives have expressed confidence that the Appropriations Committee-approved bills will see changes before final passage — and it is a possibility through either the House Rules Committee or amendments.

Those in the right flank are also prioritizing policy changes through the power of the purse.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) summarized the position of hard-line conservatives in a tweet Monday: “To consider funding federal government: 1) Return Federal Bureaucracy to Pre-COVID, 2) End Border Invasion & fed attack on Texas, 3) End FBI Weaponization, 4) End Racist DEI Govt Policies, 5) Make Europe Handle Ukraine, 6) End War on Reliable Energy.”

The 10 bills passed out of the House Appropriations Committee so far did so along partisan lines, with Democrats angry that House Republicans moved to write the 12 appropriations bills with an overall top-line target that was lower than the spending caps that McCarthy negotiated with President Biden in the debt limit increase bill in June.

The White House on Monday said that Biden would veto either bill if it came to his desk, taking issue not only with the additional spending cuts and recissions, but with culture war provisions concerning abortion, diversity and inclusion initiatives and gender-affirming care.

Pressure from hard-line conservatives poses challenges for Republican appropriators and moderates. The challenge, they note, is making sure that final funding bills can eventually pass the House and get signed into law. 

“You’re not gonna get everything you want. But they are getting numbers-wise and policy-wise many of the things that are good for them,” Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), a subcommittee chairman on the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the more moderate Republican Governance Group caucus, recently told The Hill.

“It’s important to pass appropriations bills that dictate the policies and procedures and how the money is going to be spent and where it’s going to be spent,” Joyce said, adding that it’s “certainly an understanding we haven’t reached yet.”

Democratic memo takes aim at GOP-released FBI form with Biden-Burisma allegations

Democrats on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee are poking holes in GOP arguments that President Biden is corrupt, claims that are founded on unverified allegations from an FBI form released in controversial fashion last week.

The uncorroborated allegations of Biden corruption and bribery are related to his son Hunter's business relationship with Ukrainian energy company Burisma and were part of an FBI form released by by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) last week.

The form documents information that a confidential human source relayed to an FBI agent, but does not assess that information.

While the GOP sees the document as key to its investigation of the Biden family’s business dealings, Democrats view the release as a stunning move that jeopardizes the FBI’s ability to work with confidential sources while offering no proof of any wrongdoing.

The FBI last week admonished Comer and Grassley for releasing the form.

“Chairman Comer’s and Senator Grassley’s decision to publicly release the form is in brazen disregard of the safety of FBI human sources and the integrity of its investigations,” House Oversight Committee Democratic staff wrote to Democratic lawmakers in a memo obtained by The Hill.

“Contrary to Republican messaging, the form provides no new or additional support for their corruption allegations against the President or Hunter Biden. Instead, its release merely seeks to breathe new life into years-old conspiracy theories, initially peddled by Rudy Giuliani, that have been thoroughly debunked.”

Republicans pushed back on the Democratic memo.

“The Democrats’ latest memo is another piece of garbage that should be thrown in the trash. Senator Grassley acquired the unclassified FD-1023 form through legally protected disclosures by Justice Department whistleblowers,” a GOP Oversight Committee spokesperson said in a statement. “The record is based on a trusted confidential human source’s conversations with a Burisma executive, and it has nothing to do with Rudy Guiliani.”

The tipster, dubbed CHS as short for confidential human source, relayed conversations he had with Mykola Zlochevsky, the CEO of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Zlochevsky thought that having Hunter Biden on the board could help insulate the company from its problems with being investigated by Ukrainian authorities.

The crux of the unproven bribery allegation has been pushed by allies of former President Trump for years: that then-Vice President Biden's threat to withhold funding to Ukraine unless Prosecutor Viktor Shokin was removed was intended to benefit Burisma, which was paying his son.

But Democrats point to numerous facts and comments — including from the FBI source, from congressional Republicans and from a man who was involved in pushing these theories — that severely undercut that theory.

Some reports say that the investigation into Burisma was, in fact, dormant by the time Biden called for Shokin’s ouster. Shokin was also criticized for failure to prosecute corruption, and his ouster was supported by numerous U.S. officials as well as other European allies far beyond Biden. 

The Democratic memo also quoted numerous Republicans — including Grassley — casting doubt on the veracity of the claims in the memo. 

“Last month, Senator Johnson, who led Senate Republicans’ 2020 investigation into the allegations involving Burisma, conceded the issues with the Form FD-1023: ‘That’s what this person says, but again, take that with a grain of salt. This could be coming from a very corrupt oligarch who could be making this stuff up,’” the Democratic memo said, citing a June podcast.

“Senator Grassley also tacitly questioned the truthfulness of the allegations in the Form FD-1023 when he admitted he was ‘not interested’ in whether the accusations in the form ‘are accurate or not,’” the memo continued, pointing to a Fox News interview in June

Grassley has argued that his interest in the FBI form rests more with whether the FBI and Department of Justice adequately investigated the tip rather than in the bribery allegations themselves. 

“What did the Justice Department and FBI do with the detailed information in the document? And why have they tried to conceal it from Congress and the American people for so long?” Grassley said in a statement alongside the memo’s release last week.

But Democrats push back on that reasoning.

“Under U.S. Attorney Brady, the DOJ and FBI thoroughly investigated the allegations as part of an eight-month formal assessment, which included interviewing Mr. Giuliani and the CHS, and reviewing suspicious activity reports (SARs) from banks,” the memo said. “The FBI also confirmed to Chairman Comer and Ranking Member Raskin during the June 5, 2023, briefing that Mr. Brady’s assessment was closed in August 2020 because his team found insufficient evidence to warrant escalating the probe from an assessment to a preliminary or full investigation.”

A GOP committee spokesperson, though, pointed to public comments from Attorney General Bill Barr refuting a previous claim from Raskin that an investigation into the claims had ended. Barr told the conservative website The Federalist in June that “it was sent to Delaware for further investigation.”

The memo also notes that the FBI source could verify the veracity of Zlochevsky’s claims, explaining that “it is extremely common for businessmen in post-Soviet countries to brag or show off” and to make “bribe” payments to government officials.

Democrats focus heavily on a recent letter to Comer from Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian who was later convicted of making illegal campaign contributions to Trump, and whom Guiliani relied on to dig up dirt about the Bidens in Ukraine ahead of the 2020 election. Parnas urged Comer to abandon efforts to uncover wrongdoing by the Biden family in Ukraine.

“Never, during any of my communications with Ukrainian officials or connections to Burisma, did any of them confirm or provide concrete facts linking the Bidens to illegal activities. In fact, they asked me multiple times why our team was so concerned with this idea,” Parnas wrote in the letter to Comer last week. “The truth is that everyone [involved in this effort to discredit the Bidens] knew that these allegations against the Bidens were false. There has never been any actual evidence, only conspiracy theories spread by people who knew exactly what they were doing.”

The memo also points to information collected during the first impeachment effort, including a conversation purported to be with Zlochevsky that contradicts the FD-1023 claims of communications with President Biden.

“No one from Burisma ever had any contacts with VP Biden or people working for him during Hunter Biden’s engagement,” Zlochevsky says in the exchange, which appears to be with Vitaly Pruss, whom the letter describes as “another long-time associate of Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani, who was a close friend of Mr. Zlochevsky.”

Democrats also take the Republicans to task for sharing information the FBI expressly asked them not to release publicly. 

Raskin (D-Md.) says the publicly released form does not include all the same redactions as the version first shared with lawmakers, disclosing names of individuals in Ukraine as well as some specific locations referenced during the conversation.

“Chairman Comer and Senator Grassley chose to expose those additional details despite repeated cautioning from the FBI about the critical need to protect the safety of its human sources and its ability to conduct investigations effectively,” Raskin wrote.

Indeed, a June 9 letter obtained by The Hill shows the FBI warned Comer about GOP members’ handling of the record just the day after offering a briefing to the full committee.

“The Committee and its Members were specifically told that ‘wider distribution could pose a risk of physical harm to FBI sources or others.’ The full text of this admonishment is included below for your reference. We are concerned that Members disregarded the Committee’s agreement that information from the document should not be further disclosed. Several Committee Members publicized specific details regarding their recollection of confidential source reporting purportedly referenced in the document,” the bureau wrote in the letter.

But Republicans defend the release of the FBI form and refuted claims of it endangering a source.

“Before publicly releasing the document, redactions were made to protect the identity of the confidential human source. The FD-1023 is also unclassified and is not marked law enforcement sensitive,” a GOP Oversight Committee spokesperson said, pointing to statements from Democrats and information shared with the press that linked the document to Ukraine before it became public. “Those early public statements, based on apparent FBI or DOJ leaks, exposed the source well before the document became public.”

Despite the Democratic pushback, Republicans signal that the FBI form will fuel its investigations; Comer said in a statement last week that the form backs up his committee’s investigation of the Biden family’s business dealings.

“That sounds an awful lot like how the Bidens conduct business: using multiple bank accounts to hide the source and total amount of the money,” Comer said.

A GOP Oversight Committee spokesperson also defended release of the FBI form by linking it to another aspect of the committee’s probe into the Biden family business dealings.

When asked about the FBI form, IRS whistleblowers who looked into Hunter Biden said they had never heard of it. The GOP spokesperson said the form was “was kept from them” even though the whistleblowers had “potentially had corroborating evidence”

This story was updated at 6:13 p.m.

House, Senate divides over funding grow as time left for spending bills shrinks

Lawmakers are sprinting to finish as much work as possible on a dozen appropriations bills before a long August recess begins at the end of the week.

But major divides between the House and Senate on spending levels — as well as pressure from conservatives on Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — forecast messy spending battles when lawmakers return.

Most spending bills have advanced in the House and Senate appropriations committees. But House conservatives are pushing for even lower spending levels than what were approved in some of those bills in committee, numbers that were already lower than those agreed to in a debt ceiling deal between McCarthy and President Biden.

Senate appropriators, meanwhile, are not only approving bills at levels more in line with the spending caps in the debt ceiling deal, but also proposing additional emergency spending.

House leaders expect to bring the first two appropriations bills to the floor this week: one that includes the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction, and another that includes agriculture, rural development and the Food and Drug Administration.

And McCarthy reiterated his commitment to not put an omnibus spending bill on the House floor — a key demand of House conservatives.

“I will not put an omnibus on the floor of the House,” he said. “We should do our work. We should do our job.”

But the funding gulf between the House and Senate is only getting wider.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced Thursday that she and Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the top Republican on the panel, reached a deal to add $13.7 billion in additional emergency funding on top of their appropriations bills. The deal included $8 billion for defense programs and $5.7 billion for nondefense programs.

“Many of us have been clear since the debt limit agreement was first unveiled that we believed it would woefully underfund our national defense, our homeland security, certain security accounts and the bill before us at a very dangerous time,” Collins said at the time.

The announcement has already prompted pushback from Republicans in the lower chamber, where Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) called further spending “a non-starter in the House.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who serves on the Appropriations panel, also came out against the move, calling it “just plain wrong” and saying it would take Congress “off the promising path that we have started on to get our fiscal house back in order.”

Meanwhile in the House, conservatives are continuing to put pressure on GOP leaders to lower spending, and disputes remain about overall top-line spending numbers.

"Oh, there are going to be changes” to the spending bills already approved by the Appropriations committee, House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) said.

While conservatives have already succeeded in getting leaders to agree to approve overall spending levels below the caps laid out in the debt limit bill, disputes remain about whether recissions of previously approved spending count toward meeting target fiscal 2022 levels.

"This is a math discussion. And so you know, members are gonna have to get comfortable with a certain number on all sides of our conference,” Donalds said.

Donalds was among the group of 21 conservatives that sent a letter earlier this month pledging not to back appropriations bills “effectively in line” with the budget caps agreed to by McCarthy and Biden as part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act debt limit deal, while calling for a top line at fiscal 2022 levels.

The group also voiced opposition to the use of “reallocated rescissions to increase discretionary spending above that top-line,” decrying what some have called a “budgetary gimmick” to include recissions in getting to fiscal 2022 levels. 

But that marks a tough task for GOP appropriators, who have already proposed clawing back billions of dollars of funding previously allocated for Democratic priorities and repurposing them for areas like border and national security.  While they approve of spending increases in some areas — like defense, and to account for higher costs due to inflation — that would necessitate deeper cuts in other areas that Democrats will surely not support.

“You have to work to get the 218,” said Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), a subcommittee chairman on the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the moderate Republican Governance Group caucus. 

“You're not gonna get everything you want. But they are getting numbers-wise and policy-wise many of the things that are good for them,” Joyce said of the hard-line conservative members. 

And he advocated for passing bills that may not be perfect, but can have a major impact on administration policy.

More from The Hill

“It's important to pass appropriations bills that dictate the policies and procedures and how the money is going to be spent and where it's going to be spent,” Joyce said, adding that it's “certainly an understanding we haven't reached yet.”

Discussions have continued between the hard-line conservatives, GOP leadership and other factions of the conference over the holdups surrounding the spending bills, like overall top-line spending levels and recissions. But a source familiar with the discussions said that many of the issues being raised by members of the Freedom Caucus and their allies are also supported by members in other ideological areas of the conference.

But even as conservatives think they are making progress, the clock is ticking. The House is scheduled to be in session for just three weeks after the August recess and before the Sept. 30 funding deadline.

“I think this week, there's been some productive movement to put more downward pressure on spending,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). “So, I'm more worried about the timetable right now.”

McCarthy said Thursday that he expects the House to pass all of its 12 appropriations bills by Sept. 30.

At the same time, Senate appropriators are hurrying to pass out of committee their four remaining funding bills by next week, after the upper chamber fell slightly behind their counterparts in the House at the start of the process earlier this year. 

Each of the eight funding bills passed out of the committee so far have fetched overwhelming bipartisan support. But there is tricky legislation on the horizon as negotiators prepare to consider what some regard as their toughest bills next week, including measures to fund the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services.   

“This was never going to be easy,” Murray said Thursday, but she added she thinks appropriators are “all eager to finish strong.”

Negotiators anticipate bicameral negotiations to pick up in the weeks ahead, but fears are rising over whether both sides will be able to strike the deal to keep the government funded beyond the shutdown deadline in September. 

“We're gonna have a government shutdown because we're gonna fight between the House and Senate about appropriations. Maybe, I sure hope not. We keep coming right up close,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said this week.

“We are going to scare the hell out of you,” he said. “We're really good at that.”

Mychal Schnell contributed.