Jan 19, 2024

Republicans should have let Hunter testify publicly

Screenshot of Hunter Biden presser | Inside Edition
Screenshot of Hunter Biden presser | Inside Edition

He just agreed to a closed-door testimony — but was that the right call?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.” Today is a special Friday edition.

Staff note: Today, we’re publishing a piece that Isaac started to write last week before leaving for Bolivia about why Republicans should agree to Hunter Biden’s request to testify publicly. Then, just before we were set to publish this piece, and with Isaac as unreachable as possible in the Andes Mountains, the news broke: Hunter Biden agreed to testify in a closed-door deposition with House Republicans. His decision came as Republicans planned to advance a contempt resolution against him in the House next week, and he is scheduled to testify on February 28.

We considered altering this piece to reflect the new information, but decided to publish Isaac’s (now dated) editorial in full. We apologize for the poor timing, but believe there is still value to considering the argument.

I don't trust Hunter Biden as far as I can throw him, but his latest political stunt is pretty clever.

In case you missed it, the president's son recently defied a subpoena from House Republicans to testify privately in the impeachment inquiry into his father. Instead, Hunter showed up in Washington D.C. (twice) and told Republicans he would only testify publicly, not behind closed doors, because he was tired of Republicans cherry-picking stories from private testimony about his life and destroying his public reputation.

Defying a congressional subpoena is no small thing, and Republicans were rightly outraged (though of course, plenty of Republicans have defied subpoenas recently, too). They’ve threatened to hold Hunter in contempt of Congress, which could end with more criminal charges for the president’s son. Hunter's lawyers responded by saying that they ignored the subpoena because it came before a formal vote to advance the impeachment inquiry into his father, making it invalid. They also said that if Republicans issued a new subpoena now that the impeachment inquiry has been voted on, Hunter would comply. On Sunday, Republicans vowed to do just that.

But here's another idea: Republicans should take Hunter Biden up on his original offer. They should let him testify publicly.

Today, I want to give you the best arguments I could think of for why.

For starters, Republicans have been seeking Hunter’s testimony for a long time, and this is an opportunity to get it and present it to the public all at once. So far, closed-door testimony from associates of Hunter’s like Devon Archer has devolved into he-said, she-said spats about what actually happened, which hasn’t really advanced the narrative or our understanding of the facts one way or the other. Whatever reason Republicans have for not wanting Hunter to testify publicly (more on that in a second), they’re not doing themselves any favors by insisting on their terms.

There’s also this simple fact: The public has heard little more than gossip and innuendo about President Joe Biden's involvement in his son's corrupt business dealings. A great deal of the information we have has been gathered from piecemeal reporting about Hunter’s laptop and incomplete or non-contextualized comments from members of Congress about “what they know.” As I’ve said before, some of the evidence against Hunter is quite damning, and there is no doubt he has been caught up in some shady business dealings. There is some smoke surrounding his dad, too, including meetings he purportedly attended and Hunter floating his involvement in various emails by referencing him obliquely as “the big guy.” Yet, the hard evidence that Joe Biden ever did anything corrupt while in office as vice president, the so-called smoking gun, has been elusive. 

Why not pull the curtain back on the investigation that is ongoing and show the public the hard questions you actually have for the president's son?

Second, the demand that any testimony must be behind closed doors raises even more questions. Why do Republicans only want to have Hunter testify in private? If his and the president’s corruption is so obvious, why not share it with us, the voters? James Comer (R-KY) has argued that public testimony would allow Democrats to filibuster and disrupt proceedings with antics or performative questions, and while that certainly seems likely if a public hearing were to happen, it's unconvincing as a reason not to do this now — that possibility has never stopped either party from calling for public hearings when they thought they had a strong case to make. If Republicans actually have a damning story about Hunter to tell, based on tens of thousands of documents (as Comer says), a Congressional hearing would be quite valuable for shedding light on that story.

A more likely reason Republicans don’t want him to testify in public is actually the one Hunter gave, which is surprising given his penchant for dishonesty: They plan to use closed-door testimony as a political cudgel against him and his dad by selectively leaking snippets that look bad for the Biden family out of context, a commonplace activity in Washington D.C. (Democrats did this with Trump incessantly).

Finally, Republicans should do this now because the 2024 presidential election is less than 10 months away — and the non-competitive Democratic primary officially kicks off on January 23. Again: If Republicans actually have a compelling story to tell about Hunter's corruption and President Biden's involvement, they owe it to voters to share that story — in full — with the public before Biden has a chance to get re-elected. Organizing such a hearing could take months. Accepting Hunter’s offer and scheduling it now would ensure such a hearing happens before November. And if they don't have the goods, they should lay off the innuendo and the promises.

I mean this sincerely: Everyone from both sides of this debate should want a public hearing. If you are a Hunter or Joe Biden defender, and you believe Republicans are doing little more than blowing smoke, then you should want a public hearing to expose that reality. If you believe Hunter is a criminal and his dad is corrupt, then surely Republicans — over three years after “Hunter’s laptop” dropped, with an ongoing Justice Department investigation into him, with thousands of documents, source material interviews, and subpoena power — can make that case publicly.

Regardless of what congressional Republicans do, Hunter Biden appears to be in a lot of legal trouble. There’s a decent chance he is looking at prison time now that his plea bargain has fallen apart. Whatever you think about him, or those legal woes, this latest move — calling Republicans’ bluff and demanding a public hearing — wasn’t just clever, it was compelling. And I think it’s one of the few things partisans on both sides should be able to agree on.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.