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Looming testimony of Biden relatives has high stakes for both sides

Eric Schwerin, a key witness for House Republicans in their impeachment inquiry of President Biden, told them he was aware of no action by Biden — as a public official or private citizen — related to his son Hunter’s business activities. Rob Walker, another longtime associate of Hunter Biden, testified that the president was not involved in, did not profit from, and took no official actions related to his family’s business dealings.

Mervyn Yan, who was involved with Hunter and the president’s brother James in a lucrative deal with a Chinese energy conglomerate, testified to the lawmakers that he had never met, spoken to, done business with — or even particularly liked — Joe Biden. Another witness said he had not talked to Joe Biden in more than 15 years, when he was still in the Senate.

A review of nearly 2,000 pages of transcripts from recent witnesses before the House impeachment inquiry, many with deep knowledge of Hunter’s business affairs, suggests Republicans are still struggling to uncover firm evidence that Joe Biden benefited from the business pursuits of his son and his brother. If anything, the House Oversight and Judiciary committees have compiled an extensive record of sworn statements from firsthand witnesses saying the president was never involved.

That raises the stakes for two high-profile witnesses appearing soon before the committees in closed-door sessions: James Biden is scheduled to sit for a deposition on Feb. 21, followed by Hunter Biden on Feb. 28. Their appearances could provide the Republicans with perhaps their last, best hope of obtaining testimony that would alter the trajectory of the inquiry.

So far, the statements of even witnesses unsympathetic to the Bidens have been largely exculpatory. “President Biden — while in office or as a private citizen — was never involved in any of the business activities we pursued,” Walker told the lawmakers, according to the transcripts. “Any statement to the contrary is simply false.” The lawmakers summoned Walker because he was centrally involved in Hunter Biden’s pursuit of business in China and Romania.

Republicans note that the probe has unearthed occasions when Joe Biden dropped by dealmaking lunches arranged by Hunter or called his son during business meetings — events that appear to undercut the president’s long-standing claim that he was unaware of his son’s pursuits. Still, most of those occasions came when Biden was out of office and had no plans to run again, potentially weakening an argument that he abused his power on Hunter’s behalf.

The committees have most recently trained their sights on individuals who worked with Hunter Biden to drum up business in the years before his father became president, in hopes of showing that the elder Biden improperly benefited from shady deals or foreign interests.

Schwerin was one of Hunter Biden’s closest business partners, helping build a joint consulting firm that grew during Joe Biden’s years as vice president. Schwerin and Hunter were in communication daily, often hourly, pitching ideas and chasing leads. The Washington Post has previously reported on how they worked to leverage the Biden brand by providing potential clients with vice-presidential cuff links, challenge coins, books autographed by Joe Biden and tickets to White House events.

Biden’s critics say that shows his son taking advantage of his father’s position to make money. But in his testimony, Schwerin said Hunter and his partners did not ask then-Vice President Biden to help them or their associates. “I never asked him to take any official actions for the benefit of Hunter’s clients or any other client,” Schwerin said. “Furthermore, I have no recollection of any promises or suggestions made by Hunter or myself to any clients or business associates that his father would take any official actions on their behalf — none.”

Schwerin also had intimate knowledge of Joe Biden’s finances, since he handled the vice president’s household expenses for eight years.

Schwerin told the lawmakers he set up online bill payments and had access to Joe Biden’s primary SunTrust Bank account, so he could pay expenses like cable and utility bills. Aside from a monthly reimbursement for a family AT&T cellphone plan, he said he could not recall instances of money transfers between Joe Biden and his son.

“It was a very vanilla, boring account,” Schwerin said. “The salary check went in and, you know, a set 10 to 15 expenses went out every month.”

One area of focus during James Biden’s testimony is expected to be a $200,000 loan he received from Joe Biden on Jan. 12, 2018. James Biden repaid the loan on March 1, the same day he received $200,000 from Americore, a health-care company that has since gone bankrupt and has filed suit against James Biden in part for making “representations that his last name, ‘Biden’ could ‘open doors.’”

Carol Fox, the trustee in the company’s bankruptcy proceedings, testified that she had no evidence that Joe Biden was involved in Americore or its bankruptcy. James Biden’s attorney, Paul J. Fishman, has said that “at no time did Jim involve his brother in any of his business relationships,” but declined to answer questions about why James needed the large sum.

The case against President Biden was further undercut when a special counsel David Weiss recently charged a former FBI informant with lying about the Bidens’ business dealings. Republicans had previously touted the informant’s explosive assertion that executives of a Ukrainian energy firm said they had hired Hunter Biden so his father could protect their company in various ways.

Despite the accumulation of exculpatory statements, Republican congressional aides working on the impeachment inquiry — speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation — said they are building a strong case for Joe Biden’s culpability and potential impeachment.

“People who can speak most about Joe Biden’s involvement haven’t been interviewed — James Biden and Hunter Biden,” said one of the aides. “They are they conduits, the connective tissue, between people we have interviewed and Joe Biden.”

The Republicans also cite a pattern of Joe Biden meeting with Hunter’s prospective business partners, then Biden’s family members being paid. So even if money did not flow directly to Joe Biden, they contend, he used his position to enrich his family. “The fact that he shows up to these meetings and makes these calls — it strains credulity that he doesn’t think his presence makes his son money,” one said.

Among the business deals most closely scrutinized by the committees is an arrangement between Hunter and James Biden and CEFC, a Chinese energy conglomerate, that earned the Bidens millions of dollars as they pursued several projects, including a $40 million venture to produce liquefied natural gas in Louisiana.

Yan, who worked as a consultant for CEFC and was often an intermediary with the Bidens, testified that Hunter never mentioned his father or used him to arrange any deals. Neither Hunter nor James raised the idea of Joe Biden being part of the arrangement, he added, and he has no reason to believe the former vice president benefited financially.

Yan said he was not even aware that James Biden was Joe’s brother, since he introduced himself only as Hunter’s uncle. And it never came up that Hunter was Joe Biden’s son, a fact that would not have impressed him in any case. “I wouldn’t have that reaction because I don’t even like Joe Biden,” Yan said. “Well, I thought he was a little bit too old at that time. … That was 2017.”

One former Hunter Biden associate has taken a different tone.

Tony Bobulinski, who joined Hunter in the pursuit of the CEFC deal before eventually being cut out, is one of the few witnesses to say Joe Biden was aware of his family members’ activities. His exchanges with Democrats on the committees became heated, the transcript shows, with raised voices, pointed fingers and calls for calm.

Bobulinski said that at one point he met with Joe, Hunter and James Biden in Los Angeles. He spoke with James and Hunter about the CEFC deal, while his conversation with Joe Biden was vaguer — “I distinctly remember him just saying, ‘Hey, you know, keep an eye on my brother and my son and thank you for what you’re doing,’” Bobulinski said — but he said he was certain the former vice president was in the loop.

“Joe Biden was more than a participant in, and a beneficiary of, his family’s business,” Bobulinski said. “He was an enabler, despite being buffered by a complex scheme to maintain plausible deniability.”

Bobulinski has been a Biden family antagonist for some time. He made an appearance at a 2020 presidential debate, at the invitation of President Donald Trump, in an apparent effort to rattle the Democratic nominee. Bobulinski’s lawyer is former Trump counsel Stefan Passantino.

Other Hunter Biden associates have placed Joe Biden in proximity to those making the deals. That does not support Republicans’ most damning claim, that Joe Biden used his position to enrich himself, but it does challenge Biden’s longtime insistence that he was unaware of his son’s business activities.

Walker testified that Joe Biden dropped by a business lunch at the Four Seasons in Georgetown in February 2017, a few weeks after he left office. The 90-minute meeting included Hunter, Walker and about 10 officials from CEFC, and the purpose was to discuss the partnership that eventually would prove so lucrative for James and Hunter.

“He spoke nice, you know, normal pleasantries,” Walker said of Joe Biden. “He, I don’t believe, even really knew why they were there. He specifically said, ‘Good luck in whatever you guys are doing.’”

Asked why the former vice president showed up in the first place, Walker said, “I don’t know, but I think that from time to time he liked to lay eyes on his son, who was in and out of sobriety.”

Not long after that meeting, a CEFC-related entity sent $3 million to Walker, a third of which was distributed later to Hunter Biden and other family members. Asked if Joe Biden was aware of those payments, Walker said: “I’m pretty certain he was not aware. I have no knowledge that he was aware.”

The transcript shows that Walker at one point was shown several text messages from Hunter Biden, including one in which he appeared to refer to his father as “my chairman” and suggested he had consulted him about a possible business arrangement.

Walker attributed those remarks to Hunter’s serious drug addiction at the time. “Hunter is not clearly well at this moment,” said Walker, who later had a falling out with Hunter. “I know what it looks like he is saying, but at no point was Joe Biden a part of anything we were doing, ever.”

The committee has also spent considerable time delving into Hunter Biden’s art career. The president’s son, who has taken up painting in the course of his addiction recovery, has sold several paintings and had his work exhibited at a New York gallery.

The owner of the gallery, Georges Bergès, testified that President Biden had no role in setting the price of the artwork, and that he had no reason to believe the president received any benefit from his son’s art sales.

Bergès also testified that he does not support Biden politically, and in fact has donated to Trump.

Bergès and Hunter appeared to have a friendly relationship. When Hunter’s daughter got married at the White House in November 2022, Bergès was a guest and met the president.

He said they spoke once, with President Biden on the phone, after that. “My daughter finished camp and he called to, you know, wish her, congratulate her for finishing camp, and I answered the phone,” he said.

They did not discuss Hunter’s artwork or who had purchased it. He said he had never received a political favor from Joe Biden.

Jacqueline Alemany contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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