House Republicans are approaching their Biden impeachment inquiry with renewed vigor following the election of Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who has cautioned against rushing an investigation even as he’s previously accused the president of bribery.
As Speaker, Johnson has stressed a reserved approach to impeachment, invoking the founders in calling it the “heaviest power that we have,” while saying he has no predetermined outcome.
But as a prominent voice of the House Judiciary Committee, he was vocal in criticizing President Biden, at one point saying bribery is “what happened here.”
House Republicans have failed to demonstrate that Biden took a bribe — an allegation that surfaced as a result of a conversation with a Ukrainian oligarch that came to the FBI in a tip the bureau was unable to verify.
The White House has vigorously denied any wrongdoing by Biden and noted that even as Republicans have pored over the business dealings of his brother and son, they’ve failed to connect the president to their work overseas.
But as Johnson takes the helm from a former Speaker who at times seemed reluctant to pursue the matter, he said last week the House would soon have to determine how to move forward with an investigation shared across three committees.
“I do believe that very soon we are coming to a point of decision on it,” he said Thursday.
“I have been very consistent, intellectually consistent in this, and persistent that we have to follow due process, and we have to follow the law,” he said. “That means following our obligation on the Constitution and doing appropriate investigations in the right way at the right pace, so that the evidence comes in, and we follow the evidence where it leads. You follow the truth where it leads.”
“We’ve not predetermined the outcome of this. We’ve not prejudged it,” he said. “But I think everyone can see how it is unfolding,” he added.
While the GOP has fanned the flames, it has yet to find a smoking gun that implicates the president of directly benefiting from his family’s international business dealings or making policy decisions as vice president because of them.
The crux of the allegations stem back to Biden’s efforts as vice president to remove Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin. Republicans argue those moves were not because of Shokin’s failure to address corruption, as Biden has said, but rather to benefit Biden’s son, who was serving on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma at the time.
But Biden’s actions were in line with those of the international community, and State Department correspondence from the time shows the U.S. withheld aid to Ukraine due to concern about Shokin’s failure to make meaningful reforms.
Johnson, however, has expressed confidence that Biden was involved in wrongdoing.
“The president bribed or pressured a foreign leader to fire that country’s top prosecutor because the prosecutor was investigating his son, and he used $1 billion of U.S. taxpayer money to have that bidding done, and then he bragged about it on video,” he said on Fox News in August, referring to Biden’s past comments about Shokin’s ouster.
Shokin, however, was not prosecuting Burisma; his deputy has said an earlier investigation had gone dormant by the time Biden was involved. The U.S. concern over providing aid to Ukraine was because of Shokin’s failure to be an aggressive prosecutor.
Johnson has also stated he believes Biden’s actions are part of a “pay-to-play” scheme.
“On Capitol Hill, a lot of people debate and quibble about what high crimes and misdemeanors are, but we know what bribery is. It’s someone paying you to do their bidding, and that’s what happened here,” he said in the same Fox News interview.
Johnson has been pushing for an investigation into the episode since 2019, when former President Trump faced impeachment proceedings after withholding aid to Ukraine while trying to pressure leaders there to announce a probe into Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
“If President Trump’s requested informational investigation was justified, then no impeachment charge against him is justified. It can’t be an abuse of power by President Trump to inquire about an abuse of power that’s so painfully obvious by Vice President Biden,” Johnson said during a House Judiciary Committee markup of articles of impeachment against Trump.
For Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Johnson is a “much more authentic voice of MAGA” than his predecessor, whose endorsement by Trump belies an effort driven by the former president.
“The mode of force behind this impeachment is entirely political and specific to Donald Trump. He thinks he’ll be the Republican nominee, and he doesn’t want to be the only person running who has been impeached by the House of Representatives. It’s as simple as that,” Raskin told The Hill.
“But they’ve got nothing on Joe Biden. So if my friend Mike Johnson wants to be guided by the Constitution, he’ll do whatever he can to make the whole ludicrous impeachment drive go away as quickly as possible.”
The House Speaker’s race didn’t put the GOP’s investigations on ice, but in the weeks since Republican witnesses suggested the party did not have sufficient evidence to back an impeachment, the probe has been quieter.
Since subpoenaing the personal financial records of Biden’s brother, James Biden, as well as Hunter Biden, the House Oversight and Accountability Committee has pointed to two checks between the brothers labeled as personal loans that were sent after Biden exited office.
While the GOP suggested they came after major business dealings, a $200,000 loan was repaid after James Biden’s work with an American company. A $40,000 check between the brothers came after Hunter Biden secured money from a Chinese company, later transferring some of the money to his uncle’s company.
Democrats have argued the funds show nothing more than a short-term loan between family members made while Biden was a private citizen.
“Where’s the evidence? We’ve been at it all these months, and there’s no scintilla of evidence that there’s been any inappropriate behavior by the part of the Biden administration,” said Rep. Richard Neal (Mass.), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, which is also investigating Biden.
“Not only does it appear as though it’s running on fumes, but it further diminishes the proper role of Congress in terms of administering the government.”
In one of his first interviews as Speaker, Johnson called the GOP the “rule of law team” and said impeachment should not be “wielded lightly.”
But he made clear Republicans would expediently press ahead with their investigation.
“There’s a lot of smoke here,” Johnson said. “And we’re going to find out very soon how big the fire is.”