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Hunter Biden’s offer to testify publicly in an open hearing, but not in a closed-door deposition as House Republicans demanded in their subpoena, is exposing some cracks in the GOP’s strategy.
House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) swiftly blasted the request — contradicting earlier comments saying they would “drop everything” if the president’s son wanted to testify “in front of the committee.”
“Hunter Biden is trying to play by his own rules instead of following the rules required of everyone else. That won’t stand with House Republicans,” Comer said in a statement, adding that he also “agree[s] that Hunter Biden should have the opportunity to testify in a public setting at a future date.”
But a few GOP voices wonder what the harm is in going straight to a public format.
“I think they ought to take Hunter Biden up on his offer, shall we call it, and I think that there’s plenty of good questions that should be asked of him,” said Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.). But he added that Comer is “going to do what’s best in order to truly get the truth out, and at the same time, not give someone an opportunity to grandstand.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), without referencing Comer, also backed the idea of public testimony from Biden.
“The American people have a right to see — and also, you know, they should evaluate this for themselves,” he said during an interview on Fox Business.
“I mean, if you do this stuff in private … what happens is there’s inevitably bunches of leaks, and then it’s, ‘Well so-and-so said this, and so-and-so said that.’ It’s like, just do it in public, and let the public see, open the door so y’all can report on it.”
And House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) briefly posted on social media that he “welcome[d]” Biden’s move to testify and that it was “long overdue for him to come clean in front of the American people.”
But he deleted the post and shifted gears later, writing, “Hunter Biden does not get to dictate how Congress conducts our constitutional role in oversight of his father’s administration and investigating the President’s involvement in the Biden family influence peddling business. The congressional subpoena he received was not a suggestion.”
A Smith aide said the first statement “lacked the additional nuance that there was no world in which his appearing publicly was going to supplant the subpoena.”
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It is not a novel move for a subpoenaed witness to suggest appearing in a public hearing rather than a private one. And Democrats who criticized Comer for not accepting Biden’s request have not always been consistent.
After the select committee on the Jan. 6 Capitol attack subpoenaed five GOP lawmakers, former Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said he would prefer to testify to the Jan. 6 panel in a public setting.
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in the last Democratic-controlled Congress offered — after months of resisting the subpoena and facing a criminal contempt trial — to testify publicly before the committee rather than privately.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), the top Oversight Democrat who previously served on the Jan. 6 panel, ripped the GOP for refusing Biden’s request for a public hearing.
“Let me get this straight. After wailing and moaning for ten months about Hunter Biden and alluding to some vast unproven family conspiracy, after sending Hunter Biden a subpoena to appear and testify, Chairman Comer and the Oversight Republicans now reject his offer to appear before the full Committee and the eyes of the world and to answer any questions that they pose?” Raskin said in a statement.
But when Bannon requested to testify publicly to the Jan. 6 panel, Raskin dismissed the suggestion — something Republicans were happy to point out on social media Tuesday.
“The way that we have treated every single witness is the same, that they come in, they talk to the committee there,” Raskin said on CBS at the time. “If they’re going to take a deposition, they’re sworn under oath. It’s videotaped. It’s recorded, and then we take it from there.”
Some GOP members also pointed to the Jan. 6 committee’s practice as a rationale for why Biden should have to first do his deposition privately.
“He doesn’t get special treatment. He’s got to be treated like every other witness,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), one of the five lawmakers subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 panel, said, noting those called before the select committee didn’t get a choice.
“They got stuck having to do it privately,” he said. Biggs did not meet with the panel after his subpoena.
A spokesperson for Rudy Giuliani noted the former Trump attorney likewise did not have an option to testify publicly during the Jan. 6 hearings.
Raskin told The Hill on Tuesday that the Bannon situation was different, as the former White House adviser fought the subpoena for nine months, only to reverse course just ahead of his trial for contempt of Congress for failing to comply with the order.
But he also questioned Comer’s motives for the private setting.
“They want to have him behind closed doors for 10 hours or 12 hours and then to take one 15-second clip out of context and then try to bamboozle the country. And that’s what they’ve been doing from the beginning. So good for Hunter Biden, that he’s saying he will come and answer every question from every member of the committee in public, but he’s going to have to speak for himself and not allow their leak machine [to] distort whatever it is he says,” Raskin said.
Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) accused the majority of acting in bad faith.
“Regardless of what happened in that situation, this situation is different because the Oversight Republicans have made it very clear that their modus operandi is to have closed-door depositions and to leak very cherry-picked and misleading testimony to paint a false picture of what the witness said,” Goldman said.
Comer, during an interview with conservative outlet Newsmax, said the private setting was needed in part to stay laser focused on reviewing tens of thousands of documents without back-and-forth from members, saying they would get distracted by Raskin and other Democrats.
But Democrats see the move as a sign of weakness in the GOP probe, particularly after the inaugural GOP public impeachment hearing, where they were able to poke holes in testimony from Republican witnesses.
“I don’t understand why all of a sudden the chairman is afraid and wants to bury Hunter in a basement. If it’s so compelling, if the evidence is so overwhelming, you show it to the American people in committee,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) said.
“It’s a vote of no confidence in his own members. Clearly he doesn’t want his members asking questions in committee. And we’ve seen how the impeachment hearings have gone. So clearly, it’s because he wants to control the narrative, he wants to spin, and he wants to misrepresent it,” he added, saying Comer wants to “just run to Sean Hannity and tell his story on that one channel, on that one show.”
Comer told The Hill that the Oversight panel was preparing a response to Biden’s attorney Abbe Lowell.
“We’re responding to his and Menendez’s attorney,” Comer said, taking a swipe at Hunter Biden’s using the same legal counsel as recently indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
“We’ve got 10,000 pages of documents. We’ve got to talk at length with Hunter Biden about the different shell companies, the different wires from the different countries. And there’s no way to do that in a public hearing,” Comer said.