House Republicans will put their claims of unequal justice for Republicans and Democrats at center stage Wednesday, bringing IRS whistleblowers before the public to blast the government’s investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of President Biden.
The hearing will serve in part as a way for Republicans to give former President Trump political cover as he faces a likely third indictment over Jan. 6, while also fueling a potential impeachment inquiry against Attorney General Merrick Garland.
IRS investigator Gary Shapley and an unnamed IRS special agent told the House Ways and Means Committee in May that they were displeased with the investigation into Hunter Biden’s tax matters, accusing prosecutors of slow-walking the investigation and allowing the statute of limitations to run out. Hunter Biden in June reached a deal to plead guilty to tax crimes for 2017 and 2018.
In one point of drama, the identity of the unnamed IRS agent will be revealed at Wednesday’s hearing.
Republicans hope the credibility of the two whistleblowers will rub off on broader investigations of the Biden family’s business dealings. The House Oversight Committee claims it has uncovered financial documents showing that foreign companies funneled more than $10 million to Biden family members and associates, traveling through a web of shell companies.
“This is the A-team with the IRS. These two guys have stellar records,” House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) said Tuesday.
The hearing could also help Republicans distract from Trump’s numerous legal problems after the former president said Tuesday that he expected an imminent indictment in relation to the Justice Department’s probe into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
The hearing fits in with a broader GOP theme that the federal government is “weaponized” against Biden’s political opponents.
“If you notice recently, President Trump went up in the polls and was actually surpassing President Biden for reelection. So what do they do now? Weaponize government to go after their number one opponent,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday.
McCarthy complained that in Hunter Biden’s case, prosecutors waited until after the statute of limitations was up for some tax years, then brought charges on others. He also referenced Shapley’s complaint that Hunter Biden’s lawyers were alerted to investigators’ interest in a storage unit.
The White House in a statement criticized the attacks on Biden.
“Instead of wasting time on politically-motivated attacks on a Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney, the rule of law, and the independence of our justice system, House Republicans should join President Biden to focus on the issues most important to the American people like continuing to lower inflation, create jobs, and strengthen health care," said Ian Sams, the White House spokesperson for oversight & investigations.
The whistleblower testimony has prompted Republican accusations of corruption at the highest levels and led McCarthy to float a potential impeachment inquiry into Garland.
A key detail for Republicans in Shapley’s testimony is whether David Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Delaware overseeing the Hunter Biden case, had authority to bring charges in other districts.
Shapley alleges that U.S. Attorney for D.C. Matthew Graves “did not support the investigation,” pushing Weiss to request special counsel status in order to be able to bring charges outside of his usual Delaware jurisdiction. According to Shapley, Weiss was denied that status.
Weiss and Garland have both denied this. Each said the Delaware prosecutor was assured he could seek special attorney status if desired, governed under a different statute that likewise would have allowed Weiss to bring charges in any venue. Graves has also said he did not oppose Weiss bringing charges in Washington.
Some lawmakers have argued Shapley’s testimony shows unfamiliarity with the statutes governing prosecutorial power.
“If you want to put the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney’s word up against a disgruntled agent — who clearly doesn't even understand the difference between a special counsel and a specially designated attorney under Section 515 — you’re playing with fire,” said Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who before being elected to Congress served as a counselor in Trump’s first impeachment.
But McCarthy said the differing accounts could be fodder for an impeachment inquiry, as Garland told Congress that Weiss had “full authority to make those referrals you're talking about or to bring cases in other districts if he needs to do that.”
Democrats have also dismissed some of Shapley’s complaints, characterizing them as common differences of opinion between investigators and prosecutors.
Shapley’s testimony points to numerous instances where prosecutors expressed hesitation about taking any action that might influence the 2020 election. They appeared to be wary of repeating past actions that spurred criticism, notably former FBI Director James Comey’s statement about the Hillary Clinton investigation just days before the 2016 election.
The Oversight hearing also demonstrates how Republican interest in Hunter Biden and the business dealings of Biden’s family has pushed them into multiple different directions — from tracking funds flowing to Biden family members; to alleged interference in the criminal case against Hunter Biden; to an unverified allegation that an executive of Ukrainian energy company Burisma (of which Hunter Biden was a board member) offered a bribe to President Biden.
“There's really two investigations going on now. There's the investigation of the Biden crime, and there's investigation of a government cover-up,” Comer said.
While Comer said that the Ways and Means Committee and the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of Federal Government will also investigate any potential cover-up, he said that the Oversight panel is still focused on “following the money.”
Still, Oversight Republicans have gotten pulled into the cover-up allegations.
On Tuesday, Comer said in a statement that committee staff conducted an interview with a former FBI supervisory special agent who confirmed some aspects of the IRS whistleblowers’ testimony — specifically, that the Secret Service and the Biden transition team were alerted to plans for the IRS to show up and seek an in-person interview with Hunter Biden that ultimately never happened.
Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said in a statement that Comer had “cherry-picked and distorted statements of a witness to advance Republicans’ false narrative about political interference in the Hunter Biden investigation.”
He’s also dismissed the GOP for fixating on investigations that Trump-appointed officials chose not to advance, pointing to Comer basing much of his investigation on a confidential tip about President Biden accepting a bribe that the FBI was not able to corroborate.
“There was an assessment opened up, and they decided not to move from the assessment level to either a preliminary investigation or to a full investigation,” Raskin said last week.
“They closed it down.”
This story was updated at 6:54 p.m.