Tensions boil over at US House as Hunter Biden makes surprise appearance at contempt hearing, walks out

By Annie Grayer for CNN

Hunter Biden unexpectedly made a short appearance at a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday as House Republicans were starting the process of holding the president's son in criminal contempt of Congress for not complying with a congressional subpoena to sit for a closed-door deposition last month.

Both the House Oversight and House Judiciary committees, which subpoenaed the president's son for his testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, are holding separate markups of the contempt resolution. Hunter Biden walked through the halls of Congress with his lawyers outside the Oversight Committee hearing, creating a tumultuous scene inside and outside the committee room as lawmakers debated what to do.

Hunter Biden entered the committee room and sat down for around 10 minutes before departing.

"You are the epitome of White privilege" said GOP Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. "Coming into the Oversight Committee, spitting in our face, ignoring a congressional subpoena to be deposed. What are you afraid of? You have no balls."

The allegations at the core of the Republican-led investigation stem from unproven claims that the president was involved in or financially benefited from his son's foreign business dealings, making the president's son a crucial witness for their probe.

Hunter's appearance was reminiscent of how he approached the subpoena last month. Instead of sitting for his deposition, Hunter Biden held a news conference outside the Capitol and has said he will only testify in a public setting. House Republicans maintained they were willing to hold a public hearing with the president's son, but only after he sat for a private interview. After the younger Biden did not appear for his deposition, House Oversight Chair James Comer and House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan issued a joint statement announcing they would begin contempt proceedings.

In a statement, Hunter Biden's lawyer Abbe Lowell said they offered to engage with House Republicans on Oversight six times but allege instead, Comer sought a subpoena for a closed-door deposition.

"Ignoring that invitation and proving again that they cared little for the truth and wanted only to 'move the needle of political support' that Chairman Comer confessed was his purpose, the Republican chairs have today commandeered an unprecedented resolution to hold someone in contempt who has offered to publicly answer all their proper questions," Lowell said. "What are they afraid of?"

Hunter Biden's appearance is part of a more aggressive, forward-leaning strategy that his legal team, led by lawyers Lowell and Kevin Morris, has adopted to confront his detractors. The lawyers are aware that despite Congress holding a contempt vote against him as early as next week, they have few – if any – ways to enforce a punishment. Biden's ability to hold off congressional testimony has become even greater in recent weeks, because he now faces both criminal tax and gun charges, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

US President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden talks to reporters outside the U.S. Capitol on December 13, 2023 in Washington, DC. Hunter Biden defied a subpoena from Congress to testify behind closed doors ahead of a House vote on an impeachment inquiry against his father.
US President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden talks to reporters outside the U.S. Capitol on December 13, 2023 in Washington, DC. Hunter Biden defied a subpoena from Congress to testify behind closed doors ahead of a House vote on an impeachment inquiry against his father. Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Tensions boil over at Oversight hearing

In the Oversight hearing, Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida responded to Mace's taunts of the president's son by saying, "If the gentlelady wants to hear from Hunter Biden we can hear from him right now."

Mace shot back: "I think that Hunter Biden should be arrested right here right now and go straight to jail."

When GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia started speaking, Hunter Biden and his attorneys left the room.

"I think it's clear and obvious for everyone watching this hearing today that Hunter Biden is terrified of strong, conservative, Republican women because he can't even face my words as I was about to speak to him," Greene said.

Reacting to all of the members interrupting each other, GOP Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona implored his colleagues "don't act like a bunch of nimrods."

Comer, a Kentucky Republican, kicked off the hearing defending his panel's subpoena for a closed-door deposition with the president's son and said, "We will not provide Hunter Biden with special treatment because of his last name. All Americans must be treated equally under the law."

The top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, highlighted the hypocrisy that a number of Republicans evaded congressional subpoenas, including Jordan, and yet are trying to hold Hunter Biden in contempt. Raskin claimed Comer has "bizarrely decided to obstruct his own investigation" because he is refusing to accept Hunter Biden's offer to appear for a public hearing.

"The chairman refused to take 'yes' for an answer from Hunter Biden" Raskin said before getting interrupted by Republicans.

President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden leaves after a court appearance on July 26, 2023, in Wilmington, Delaware.
President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden leaves after a court appearance on July 26, 2023, in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo credit: Julio Cortez/AP

What happens next?

The pair of markups on Wednesday kick off a lengthy process and underscore that the Republican effort to obtain testimony from the president's son will remain difficult. If the contempt resolution passes out of committee, it is referred to the full House for a contempt vote.

If an eventual House floor vote succeeds, the Department of Justice, which is already pursuing two criminal cases against the president's son, would have to determine whether to prosecute the president's son for evading a congressional subpoena.

Hunter Biden is scheduled to be on the West Coast by Thursday. He has a court appearance in his criminal tax case where he faces nine criminal charges in federal court in Los Angeles.

White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations Ian Sams issued a statement ahead of the committee meetings, dismissing "baseless attacks" against the president's family members and calling on Republican lawmakers to focus on Congress' other responsibilities.

"Instead of playing politics, they should do their jobs, fund the government and border security, and focus on solutions that benefit the American people," Sams stated.

Ahead of the markup, Jordan told CNN he expects the contempt resolution to pass, but did not know when it would come to the floor or how quickly the referral would move through the Justice Department if it got to that point.

"Whenever Speaker Johnson wants to put it on the floor, for a floor vote, then it's up to Merrick Garland and Mr. Graves," Jordan told CNN.

With Congress back this week from its winter recess, House Republicans are ramping up their investigations at a busy time on Capitol Hill. The meetings are happening at the same time Wednesday the House Homeland Security Committee is moving forward with its impeachment investigation into DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Sams highlighted that Congress is just days away from a government funding deadline but that House Republicans are instead focusing on their investigations.

"House Republicans are less than ten days from sparking a partial government shutdown that many of their far-right members are rooting for, but instead of working full-time to avoid it, they are wasting time on political stunts," Sams said in a statement. "These baseless attacks on the President's Cabinet and family members will do nothing to help improve Americans' daily lives, strengthen our border security, or improve the economy; all they will do is help extreme House Republicans get booked on Fox and Newsmax to try to distract from their inability to govern."

With the Biden probe moving methodically and a number of Republicans still skeptical about impeaching the president, senior Republicans now believe targeting Mayorkas will be an easier lift as the border crisis becomes a defining campaign issue.

"There's a lot of competing impeachments so it's tough to tell who is in the lead," Rep. Tony Gonzales, who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN.

"I will say that I think a lot of the members up here have lost confidence in DHS," the Texas Republican added.

Jordan said Republicans will "find out" if the House can pursue two impeachments at once, but said he believes "there is strong, compelling evidence for both."