White House officials are going on the offensive after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Tuesday announced that House Republicans will launch an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden over his family's business dealings.
Biden administration officials have contended that Biden did nothing wrong, charging that the House GOP has found no evidence after nine months of investigations and highlighting comments from Republicans expressing skepticism about an impeachment of the president.
"It's clear that the extreme far-right made a demand to open a baseless impeachment inquiry simply to continue their disproven and baseless attacks on the president," said Ian Sams, special assistant to the president and spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office, in an interview with Spectrum News on Wednesday.
Sams contended that "House Republicans have admitted" that the inquiry is about attacking the president, pointing to comments from Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who said in a Twitter Spaces last month that "the jury" in an impeachment would be "the American people," and Kentucky Rep. James Comer, who chairs the House Oversight panel and is leading the impeachment inquiry, connected his probe to Biden's polling numbers in an interview in May.
"The Republicans have admitted that this is not a legitimate inquiry focused on the truth," Sams charged. "It's instead a waste of time and resources focused on attacking the president politically."
On Wednesday, White House officials sent a memo to media organizations urging them to step up their scrutiny of House Republicans “for opening up an impeachment inquiry based on lies.”
“When even House Republican members are admitting that there is simply no evidence that Joe Biden did anything wrong, much less impeachable, that should set off alarm bells for news organizations,” read the memo from Sams.
“House Republican leaders should be held accountable for the fact that they are lurching toward impeachment over allegations that are not only unfounded but, in virtually all cases, have been actively disproven – including by witnesses and documents in their own investigations, as well as years-old congressional probes and even the former President’s first impeachment inquiry,” Sams wrote.
The White House included a 14-page dossier which it says debunks the claims made by House Republicans — from questions about Biden’s involvement in his son’s business dealings to claims of political interference by his administration into the investigation into his son, Hunter Biden.
"It's clear that they've gotten, as the members of the Oversight Committee outlined on Monday, tens of thousands of pages of financial records, and over and over again, they've turned up no link to the president," Sams said. "Over and over again, they've shown no wrongdoing by the president. And that's because the President did nothing wrong. There is no evidence of wrongdoing despite months and months, and in some cases, years and years ... they've been investigating this for years, and they failed to come up with any evidence of wrongdoing because there isn't any evidence of wrongdoing."
McCarthy on Tuesday called the impeachment inquiry a “logical” next step which “will allow our committees to gather all the facts and provide answers for the American people,” but so far House Republican investigators have not produced evidence linking Hunter Biden’s business dealings to his father — a fact that the White House is quick to point out that some Republicans have said themselves.
Sams’ memo referenced comments from Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, who told MSNBC’s “Inside with Jen Psaki” over the weekend that “time for impeachment is the time when there’s evidence linking President Biden, if there’s evidence linking President Biden to a high crime or misdemeanor, that doesn’t exist right now.”
Buck reiterated that stance in an interview with CNN on Tuesday: “I have not seen any evidence that links President Biden to Hunter Biden’s activities at this point,” though he admitted he was also set to receive a briefing later in the week from the House Oversight Committee, which is leading the impeachment inquiry.
Sams’ memo also references comments from Ohio Rep. Dave Joyce, who told Forbes in an interview Monday that he had not yet seen “facts or evidence” that would merit an impeachment inquiry, Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, who told The Hill that “we need to have more concrete evidence to go down” the path of an impeachment inquiry, and South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson, who told CNN that “there is a constitutional and legal test that you have to meet with evidence … I have not seen that evidence, but I guess I’m not suggesting it doesn’t exist.”
A spokesperson for Rep. Joyce's office pointed to a statement issued by the congressman on Tuesday, which offered support for the impeachment inquiry: "I support Speaker McCarthy’s decision to direct the House Committees on Oversight, Judiciary, and Ways and Means to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. I am confident Chairmen Comer, [House Judiciary Chairman Jim] Jordan, and [House Ways and Means Chairman Jason] Smith will conduct thoughtful and thorough investigations into allegations against the President, which I will carefully review."
Biden’s reelection campaign also piled on, accusing Speaker McCarthy of opening a “baseless impeachment inquiry” at the behest of former President Donald Trump, who is also running for the White House in 2024.
“While MAGA Republicans spend their time attacking President Biden and his family, the President is working every day to make life better for American families across the country,” wrote Biden-Harris campaign rapid response director Ammar Moussa. “President Biden will remain focused on the issues that matter to everyday Americans—lowering costs, growing the economy, making our communities safe, and protecting Social Security and Medicare—while he works to bring the country together, not divide us even further.”
A handful of Senate Republicans have expressed skepticism about the impeachment inquiry. Some lawmakers have suggested there are other more pressing priorities to focus on — like a looming Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government and avert a shutdown — and others reportedly worrying that it could give Biden a boost ahead of next year’s election.
“We’ve got so many things we need to be focusing on,” said West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a member of Senate GOP leadership. “I don’t see the glaring evidence that says we need to move forward.”
“I don’t know what it’s based on,” Capito said, per HuffPost. "I have no idea what they’re talking about. I don’t want to see impeachment being used as an everyday instrument. I don’t think that’s what it’s intended for.”
“You better have an ironclad case,” Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville warned House Republicans, per CNN. “When you go after a former president or a president, have all of your ducks in a row. Make sure you got what you need to have. Don’t be guessing. Don’t just be throwing mud.”
Rep. Comer and other House GOP chairmen briefed Senate Republicans at a lunch on Wednesday to provide a status update. South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said that he felt "there’s enough smoke there that there are legitimate questions" after the briefing.
But South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said that he and other lawmakers urged the House Republicans to hold a vote on the impeachment: "I think they’d be better off having a vote. It does give it more legitimacy."
Biden could also get an unexpected boost from an unlikely source: his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
In January 2020, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion that impeachment inquiries are not valid unless the House formally votes on the matter.
“We conclude that the House must expressly authorize a committee to conduct an impeachment investigation and to use compulsory process in that investigation before the committee may compel the production of documents or testimony in support of the House’s ‘sole Power of Impeachment,’ wrote then-Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel.
When asked if that policy still stood under Biden, Sams told Spectrum News that's a question for Speaker McCarthy.
"He's the one 10 days ago who said that any impeachment inquiry would be opened by a full vote of the House and not the declaration of one person, only to [Tuesday] have a declaration from one person," Sams said. "He's the one who said in 2019 that any opening of an impeachment inquiry that did not include a House of Representatives vote was 'devoid of any merit.'"
"So the speaker is going to have to explain how this process is going to work," Sams said. "He rushed out to make an announcement to get headlines and to continue to attack the president baselessly. But he's gonna have to explain how this is going to work."
It's unclear if or when McCarthy will hold a formal vote to impeach the president. It's also unclear if the Republican leader has the 218 votes necessary for an impeachment measure to pass.
Matt Dallek, a political historian and professor at The George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, said that the inquiry "does give the Republicans a bit more leeway" when it comes to investigating the president, but ultimately believes it's an effort by McCarthy "to balance the competing interests and ... the irreconcilable forces within his conference."
"I mean, clearly, McCarthy does not have the votes now," Dallek said. "He doesn't have the votes now, so Comer, for all of his work, has not been able to persuade the large majority or basically every Republican member that they need to open an impeachment inquiry. And I think some of these moderates who are responsible, really, for the Republican control of the House are worried about taking that vote. And that's why McCarthy has opened up this free-floating inquiry without even bringing it to the floor as he said he would do.
"I think it's really an open question whether this ultimately comes to a vote," Dallek continued. "And I think it will have much to do with politics ... and also whether Comer and Jordan and others can find anything that they haven't found so far that can persuade Republican holdouts that there's some substance there."
That said, some of the moderates that could sink the vote -- Republicans in districts that Biden won in 2020 -- appeared to be generally warm to the idea of the probe.
"I would have voted for it," said California Rep. Mike Garcia, adding: "There’s smoke there, so we have a requirement to go investigate that and see if there’s fire there."
"I think my constituents deserve some answers," said New York Rep. Nick LaLolta, who represents a Long Island district that Biden won in 2020.
NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect an updated statement from Ohio Rep. Dave Joyce regarding the impeachment inquiry.