The Republican-led House Oversight Committee is holding its first hearing Thursday in the impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden – and Republicans on the committee have made a series of false and misleading claims, as well as some other claims that have left out critical context.
Below is a CNN fact check. This article will be updated as additional fact checks are completed.
Republican Rep. James Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said in his opening remarks at the hearing on Thursday that the committee has uncovered how “the Bidens and their associates created over 20 shell companies” and “raked in over $20 million between 2014 and 2019.”
Facts First: The $20 million figure is roughly accurate for Joe Biden’s family and associates, according to the bank records subpoenaed by the committee, but the phrase “the Bidens and their associates” obscures the fact that there is no public evidence to date that President Joe Biden himself received any of this money. And it’s worth noting that a large chunk of the money went to the “associates” – Hunter Biden’s business partners – not even Biden’s family itself.
So far, none of the bank records obtained by the committee have shown any payments to Joe Biden. And a Washington Post analysis in August found that, of about $23 million in payments the committee had identified from foreign sources, nearly $7.5 million went to members of the Biden family – almost all of it to Hunter Biden – and the rest to people Hunter Biden did business with. (The Post also questioned the use of the vague phrase “shell companies,” noting that “virtually all of the companies” that had been listed by the committee at the time had “legitimate business interests” or “clearly identified business investments.”)
A Republican aide for the House Oversight Committee disputed the Post’s analysis on Thursday, saying that bank records obtained by the panel actually show that, of $24 million in payments between 2014 and 2019, $15 million went to members of the Biden family and $9 million went to associates. CNN has reached out to the Post for comment; the committee has not publicly released the underlying bank records that would definitively show the breakdown in payments.
The records obtained by the committee have shown that during and after Joe Biden’s tenure as vice president, Hunter Biden made millions of dollars through complex financial arrangements from private equity deals, legal fees and corporate consulting in Ukraine, China, Romania and elsewhere. Again, Republicans have not produced evidence that Joe Biden got paid in any of these arrangements.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio repeated a false claim about Hunter Biden that CNN debunked when Jordan made the same claim last week.
Jordan claimed that Hunter Biden himself said he was unqualified to sit on the board of directors of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings.
“Hunter Biden’s not qualified, fact number two, to sit on the board. Not my words, his words. He said he got on the board because of the brand, because of the name,” Jordan said Thursday.
Facts First: It’s not true that Hunter Biden himself said he wasn’t qualified to sit on the Burisma board. In fact, Hunter Biden said in a 2019 interview with ABC News that “I was completely qualified to be on the board” and defended his qualifications in detail. He did acknowledge, as Jordan said, that he would “probably not” have been asked to be on the board if he was not a Biden – but he nonetheless explicitly rejected claims that he wasn’t qualified, calling them “misinformation.”
When the ABC interviewer asked what his qualifications for the role were, he said: “Well, I was vice chairman on the board of Amtrak for five years. I was the chairman of the board of the UN World Food Programme. I was a lawyer for Boies Schiller Flexner, one of the most prestigious law firms in the world. Bottom line is that I know that I was completely qualified to be on the board to head up the corporate governance and transparency committee on the board. And that’s all that I focused on. Basically, turning a Eastern European independent natural gas company into Western standards of corporate governance.”
When the ABC interviewer said, “You didn’t have any extensive knowledge about natural gas or Ukraine itself, though,” Biden responded, “No, but I think I had as much knowledge as anybody else that was on the board – if not more.”
Asked if he would have been asked to be on the board if his last name wasn’t Biden, Biden said, “I don’t know. I don’t know. Probably not.” He added “there’s a lot of things” in his life that wouldn’t have happened if he had a different last name.
Jordan cited new documents obtained from IRS whistleblowers, made public by House Republicans on Wednesday, to argue that the Justice Department improperly blocked investigators from asking about Joe Biden in a 2020 search warrant related to Hunter Biden’s overseas dealings.
“We learned yesterday, in the search warrant…examining Hunter Biden electronic communications, they weren’t allowed to ask about Political Figure 1,” Jordan said. “Political Figure number 1 is the big guy, is Joe Biden.”
Facts First: This is highly misleading. The Justice Department official who gave this instruction said Joe Biden’s name shouldn’t be mentioned in the search warrant because there wasn’t any legal basis to do so. Furthermore, this occurred during Trump’s presidency, so it doesn’t prove pro-Biden meddling by the Biden-era Justice Department.
The August 2020 email from a deputy to now-special counsel David Weiss, the Trump-appointed federal prosecutor who is leading the Hunter Biden probe, said the warrant was for “BS,” an apparent reference to Blue Star Strategies, a lobbying firm that represented Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden was on the board.
The Weiss deputy said in the email that “other than the attribution, location and identity stuff at the end, none if it is appropriate and within the scope of this warrant” and that “there should be nothing about Political Figure 1 in here,” according to emails released by House Republicans. Another document released by the GOP confirm that Joe Biden is “Political Figure 1.”
Before obtaining a search warrant, investigators need to establish probable cause and secure approval from a judge. If federal prosecutors believed the references to Joe Biden weren’t within the legal scope of what the warrant was looking for, it wouldn’t have been appropriate or lawful to include them.
Comer said in his opening remarks that the committee recently uncovered “two additional wires sent to Hunter Biden that originated in Beijing from Chinese nationals; this happened when Joe Biden was running for president of the United States – and Joe Biden’s home is listed on the beneficiary address.”
Facts First: This lacks important context. Comer was correct that the committee has found evidence of two wire transfers sent to Hunter Biden from Chinese nationals in the second half of 2019, during Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, but he did not explain that Joe Biden’s home being listed as the beneficiary address doesn’t demonstrate that Joe Biden received any of the money. Nor did he explain that there may well be benign reasons for the inclusion of the address. Hunter Biden has lived at his father’s Wilmington, Delaware, home at times and listed that address on his driver’s license; Hunter Biden’s lawyer Abbe Lowell said in a statement to CNN this week that the address was listed on these transfers simply because it was the address Hunter Biden used on the bank account the money was going to, which Lowell said Hunter Biden did “because it was his only permanent address at the time.”
“This was a documented loan (not a distribution or pay-out) that was wired from a private individual to his new bank account which listed the address on his driver’s license, his parents’ address, because it was his only permanent address at the time,” Lowell said in the statement. “We expect more occasions where the Republican chairs twist the truth to mislead people to promote their fantasy political agenda.”
White House spokesman Ian Sams wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday: “Imagine them arguing that, if someone stayed at their parents’ house during the pandemic, listed it as their permanent address for work, and got a paycheck, the parents somehow also worked for the employer…It’s bananas…Yet this is what extreme House Republicans have sunken to.”
Comer told CNN this week his panel is trying to put together a timeline on where Hunter Biden was living around the time of the transfers, which occurred in July 2019 and August 2019. Joe Biden was a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary at the time.
Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina claimed at the Thursday hearing, “We already know the president took bribes from Burisma,” a Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden sat on the board of directors.
Facts First: Mace’s claim is false; we do not “already know” that Joe Biden took any bribe. The claim about a bribe from Burisma is a completely unproven allegation. The FBI informant who relayed the claim to the FBI in 2020 was merely reporting something he said he had been told by Burisma’s chief executive. Later in the hearing, a witness called by the committee Republicans, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, called “the bribery allegation” the most concerning piece of evidence he had heard today – but he immediately cautioned that “you have to only take that so far” given that it is “a secondhand account.”
According to an internal FBI document made public by Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa earlier this year over the strong objections of the FBI, the informant said in 2020 – when Donald Trump was president – that the CEO of Burisma, Mykola Zlochevsky, had claimed in 2016 that he made a $5 million payment to “one Biden” and another $5 million payment to “another Biden.” But the FBI document did not contain any proof for the claim, and the document said the informant was “not able to provide any further opinion as to the veracity” of the claim.
Republicans have tried to boost the credibility the allegation by saying it was in an FBI document and that the FBI had viewed the informant as highly credible. But the document merely memorialized the information provided by the informant; it does not demonstrate that the information is true. And Hunter Biden’s former business associate Devon Archer testified to the House Oversight Committee earlier this year that he had not been aware of any such payments to the Bidens; Archer characterized Zlochevsky’s reported claim as an example of the Ukrainian businessman embellishing his influence.
Rep. Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican, falsely claimed that Hunter Biden never paid taxes on his foreign income.
He said Hunter Biden “failed to pay any taxes” on the millions of dollars he got from Ukrainian companies, and that this shows how “the Biden family doesn’t have to” pay taxes.
“Who’s going to write the check for the money Hunter Biden didn’t pay?” Burchett asked, adding that “hardworking Americans” would end up footing the bill.
Facts First: This is false. Hunter Biden repeatedly missed IRS deadlines, and his conduct was so egregious that federal investigators believe it was criminal, but he eventually belatedly paid all of his back taxes, plus interest and penalties, to the tune of about $2 million.
Documents from Hunter Biden’s criminal cases indicate that he repeatedly missed tax deadlines, even though he had the funds and was repeatedly warned by his accountant and business partners. He was prepared to plead guilty to two misdemeanors in July, for failing to pay taxes on time in 2017 and 2018, before the plea deal collapsed.
But there’s a difference between failing to pay taxes on time and failing to pay taxes at all. In 2021, while the criminal investigation was still underway and before any charges were filed, Hunter Biden paid roughly $2 million to the IRS to cover all the back taxes, plus penalties and interest.
Hunter Biden was able to make the massive payment thanks to a roughly $2 million loan from a friend and attorney who has been supporting him during his legal troubles, according to court filings.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York accused a Republican member of the committee, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, of cutting out “critical context” from an image of a purported text message that Donalds displayed earlier in the Thursday hearing. Ocasio-Cortez also said that Donalds had displayed a “fabricated image.”
The dispute was over an image Donalds showed of a purported 2018 text message from the president’s brother James Biden to the president’s son Hunter Biden – provided by IRS whistleblowers and released by House Republicans on Wednesday – in which James Biden purportedly wrote, “This can work, you need a safe harbor. I can work with you father [sic] alone !! We as usual just need several months of his help for this to work.”
After showing the image, Donalds asked a witness at the committee, “If you saw a text message like this between the president’s brother and the president’s son, wouldn’t you be concerned about them trying to give plausible deniability for the president of the United States to not have any knowledge of said business dealings?”
Facts First: Donalds didn’t invent the James Biden text message, but Ocasio-Cortez was correct that Donalds left out critical context – specifically, context that showed there was no sign that the purported text exchange between James Biden and Hunter Biden was about business dealings. The information released by House Republicans this week appeared to show that James Biden’s purported text about getting “help” from Joe Biden came in direct response to a purported Hunter Biden text saying he could not afford alimony, school tuition for his children, food and gas “w/o [without] Dad.” Donalds did not display this purported Hunter Biden text at the Thursday hearing.
In other words, when James Biden purportedly mentioned the possibility of several months of help from Joe Biden, he gave no indication he was referring to some sort of business transaction, much less the foreign transactions that House Republicans have been focused on in their investigations into the president. But Donalds didn’t make that clear.
With that said, Ocasio-Cortez herself could have been clearer about what she meant when she claimed the image Donalds showed was “fabricated.”
The contents of the purported James Biden text Donalds displayed were not made up, according to the IRS whistleblowers. What appeared to be novel was the graphic Donalds used; he showed the text in a form that made it look like a screenshot from an iPhone text conversation, with white words over a blue background bubble. The House Republican spreadsheet that the words were taken from did not include any such graphics, and, again, it did include the preceding purported Hunter Biden message that Donalds didn’t show.
Republican Rep. Pat Fallon of Texas said at the Thursday hearing, “In an interview back in 2019 with The New Yorker, even Hunter admitted that he talked to his dad about business, specifically Burisma.”
Facts First: This needs context. The 2019 New Yorker article in question reported that Hunter Biden said he recalled Joe Biden discussing Burisma with him “just once” in a brief exchange that consisted of this: “Dad said, ‘I hope you know what you are doing,’ and I said, ‘I do.’”
It’s fair for Fallon to say that this counts as Joe Biden discussing business with his son, but Fallon did not mention how brief and limited Hunter Biden said the purported discussion was.
This story has been updated with additional information.