Two House committees voted Wednesday to recommend holding Hunter Biden in contempt of Congress for not submitting to a closed-door deposition, capping a circuslike day in which tempers flared, insults flew and pornographic photos were displayed on poster boards.
Following hours of debate, the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight Committee each voted along party lines to recommend that the full House refer the president’s son to the Justice Department for the potential contempt charges.
But the timing of any vote by the full House, and the willingness of the U.S. attorney’s office to act on the referral, remained uncertain.
Hunter Biden showed up unexpectedly Wednesday on Capitol Hill, with a brief but dramatic appearance at a committee hearing as Republicans began the process of holding him in contempt of Congress for violating a subpoena seeking his closed-door testimony.
A Hunter Biden timeline
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The president’s son walked through the congressional hallways and sat with his lawyers at the beginning of a meeting of the House Committee on Oversight, which has been seeking his testimony. His visit came a day before he is scheduled to appear in Los Angeles for an arraignment on tax charges.
The committee hearing quickly devolved into a shouting match among committee members, with Republicans railing against Biden and accusing him of performing “a political stunt” as Democrats yelled back that it was Republicans who were playing politics, given that Biden had shown up and was willing to answer questions under oath in a public setting.
“You are the epitome of White privilege coming into the Oversight Committee, spitting in our face, ignoring a congressional subpoena to be deposed,” said Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), addressing Biden directly. “What are you afraid of?”
Biden, sitting between his attorney Abbe Lowell and his friend and benefactor Kevin Morris, stared ahead, at times with a look of amusement.
Partway through the hearing, as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) began speaking, Biden got up and left.
“Apparently you’re afraid of my words,” she said. “What a coward.”
Lowell told reporters outside the hearing room that his client was willing to testify in a public setting. The president’s son has refused to answer Republican House members’ questions behind closed doors, citing a concern that they would selectively leak his remarks to make him look bad.
“Hunter Biden was and is a private citizen,” Lowell said. “Despite this, Republicans have sought to use him as a surrogate to attack his father. And, despite their improper partisan motives, on six different occasions since February of 2023, we have offered to work with the House committees to see what and how relevant information to any legitimate inquiry could be provided.”
Biden was trailed Wednesday by reporters and other onlookers — some shouting questions such as “Hunter, what’s your favorite kind of crack?” and “Are you on crack today?” — but he largely ignored the questions while making his way to the exit.
His attendance at the hearing came one month after he made another surprise appearance, this one outside the Capitol to deliver remarks to reporters about the ongoing Republican attacks on him.
“For six years, I have been the target of the unrelenting Trump attack machine, shouting, ‘Where’s Hunter?’” he said on Dec. 13. “Well, here’s my answer: I am here.”
The two events mark a more aggressive strategy for Biden. The president’s son for years has faced scrutiny from Republicans, who are using his business dealings as a basis for an impeachment inquiry into his father, and from federal investigators, who have charged Hunter Biden with tax and gun crimes.
The events on Wednesday were the latest turn in a back-and-forth between House Republicans and Biden’s legal team. The committee in November issued a subpoena seeking testimony from Biden on Dec. 13.
He responded that he was willing to testify but only in a public setting. Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the committee chairman, rejected that offer and said the testimony needed to be in private, with a transcript released afterward. Biden and his allies have repeatedly pointed to past comments from Comer inviting Biden to testify in either a public or private setting.
When Dec. 13 came, Biden instead made his appearance outside the Capitol. The hearing Wednesday began the process of holding him in contempt of Congress for defying the subpoena to appear behind closed doors.
The effort to compel Biden to testify is part of a Republican impeachment inquiry into President Biden, although committee investigators have yet to produce direct evidence that the president benefited financially from his son’s foreign business deals.
Some White House aides were in the dark and surprised by the appearance of the president’s son. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to say whether there was any advance warning or whether President Biden had spoken with his son about his plans.
“Hunter, as you all know, is a private citizen. He is not a member of this White House,” she said during a briefing. “He makes his own decisions, like he did today, about how to respond to Congress.”
Tempers flared throughout the Oversight Committee’s hearing, with statements at times verging on personal insults.
When Greene asked to enter unverified materials into the record, Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, reminded her that she could not show pornography — a reference to Greene displaying sexually explicit images of Hunter Biden during a previous hearing. Greene responded that the evidence was not pornography, prompting Raskin to retort that Greene was “the expert.”
At one point later in the afternoon, Greene attempted to display naked photos of Biden with certain portions of his body redacted, prompting vigorous objections from Democrats on the committee.
“This is not ‘The Jerry Springer Show’! This is the United States House of Representatives!” Raskin shouted. “Come on!”
The committee then underwent a lengthy debate over whether it is acceptable to show pornographic photos before Congress. Eventually the GOP-led committee voted 21-15 to allow the photos.
Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) then displayed a large photo of former president Donald Trump with Jeffrey Epstein, who was charged with sex trafficking minors in 2019 and killed himself while awaiting trial. When Republicans objected, Raskin asked in jest, “Would you accept a pornographic photo?”
Democrats throughout the day also ridiculed Republicans for ignoring a Democratic report showing that at least $7.8 million in foreign money went to Trump during his presidency while simultaneously spending years examining President Biden without any direct evidence that he has profited from his son’s business ventures.
Bitter exchanges also erupted Wednesday at the Judiciary Committee hearing, where Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) derided Republicans for saying they wanted to hear from Hunter Biden and then refusing to let him answer questions publicly. “Why are you scared?” Lieu said. “What are Republicans hiding from American people?”
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) himself has defied a congressional subpoena, issued last year by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Jordan was not penalized by his colleagues for that choice. During Wednesday’s hearing, Republicans tabled a motion from Democrats to hold both Jordan and Biden in contempt for ignoring their subpoenas.
If the contempt measure against Biden is adopted by the full House, it would fall to the Justice Department to determine whether to indict the president’s son for defying a congressional subpoena. A criminal conviction does not compel an individual to testify but can result in a fine and up to a year of imprisonment.
Last year, the Justice Department indicted former Trump White House official Peter Navarro and White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon after they refused to cooperate with the House Select Committee’s investigation into attack on the Capitol.
But the department declined to pursue charges against two other Trump advisers who were referred for defying subpoenas issued by the bipartisan committee.