House Republicans on Wednesday threatened to hold Hunter Biden, the president’s son, in contempt of Congress if he did not appear for a closed-door deposition they scheduled for next week as they hunt for evidence to try to impeach his father.
Hunter Biden has offered to testify publicly but resisted submitting to private questioning, saying he is concerned that Republicans will twist his words and selectively leak portions of his testimony without context.
“The committee has demonstrated time and again it uses closed-door sessions to manipulate, even distort, the facts and misinform the American public — a hearing would ensure transparency and truth in these proceedings,” Abbe David Lowell, a lawyer representing Mr. Biden, wrote in a letter on Wednesday to Representative James R. Comer, Republican of Kentucky and the chairman of the Oversight Committee. “We look forward to working out the schedule.”
Within hours, Republicans responded by threatening Mr. Biden with a contempt charge.
“There is no ‘choice’ for Mr. Biden to make,” Mr. Comer and Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and the Judiciary Committee chairman, wrote to Mr. Lowell. “The subpoenas compel him to appear for a deposition on Dec. 13. If Mr. Biden does not appear for his deposition on Dec. 13, 2023, the committees will initiate contempt of Congress proceedings.”
Congress has wide-ranging authority to conduct investigations that are relevant to its legislative work. Investigators often insist on questioning a witness in private to learn what their testimony is before holding a public hearing, which are more often known for grandstanding than fact-finding.
Speaker Mike Johnson has also said he believes a floor vote is needed to authorize the Republicans’ impeachment inquiry. He has called the move a “necessary constitutional step” and suggested that a vote to formalize the process could happen next week.
Republicans have a lot riding on pressuring Hunter Biden to testify. They have long claimed that the president corruptly profited from his family members’ overseas business dealings and accepted bribes, and have released some records of payments between father and son and other family members that they claim are proof. But to date, they have failed to produce evidence that there is anything inappropriate about the transactions, which lawyers for members of the Biden family have described as reimbursements for routine loans and other payments among relatives that have nothing to do with business.
When questioned by a reporter at the White House on Wednesday about why he “interacted” with his son’s and brother’s business associates, President Biden replied tersely: “I did not, and it’s just a bunch of lies.”
Hunter Biden would also have much at stake in testifying. He is under indictment on charges of lying about his drug use on a federal form he filled out to purchase a handgun in 2018. Any testimony he provides to Congress could be used against him.
In the last Congress, when Democrats controlled the House, the chamber voted to refer four recalcitrant witnesses for contempt charges after they did not cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee. Unlike Hunter Biden, however, none of those four witnesses — all allies of former President Donald J. Trump — had offered to testify publicly before their referrals.
The Justice Department ultimately decided to charge two of those witnesses, Stephen K. Bannon and Peter Navarro, both of whom were convicted but are appealing their cases. Criminal contempt charges carry a maximum sentence of one year in prison, as well as a fine of up to $100,000.
The Jan. 6 committee did not refer for contempt every witness who defied its subpoenas. Mr. Jordan, for example, was among the Republican members of Congress who received a subpoena but did not cooperate with the investigation.
The Jan. 6 panel decided instead to refer Mr. Jordan and three other Republican congressmen to the Ethics Committee for investigation.