WASHINGTON—If there was one thing that Democrats, Republicans, and the four witnesses agreed on during the first impeachment inquiry hearing of the House of Representatives on Sept. 28, it was that there isn't presently sufficient evidence to justify ousting President Joe Biden for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors," as required by the Constitution.
What they disagreed on was the question of whether the thousands of pages of evidence accumulated to date by Republicans warrants further investigation. Democrats argued throughout the hearing that, as Ranking Member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said in his opening statement, "There is no evidence, no smoke, no gun."
Three Democratic staffers stood beside Mr. Raskin as he spoke, with each holding a box of documents, which he said contained more than 12,000 pages of bank records.
House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) instantly demurred. Referring to Mr. Raskin's three boxes, Mr. Comer replied that if all of the evidence received to date were put in similar boxes, "they would reach all the way to the ceiling." The ceiling in the Rayburn House Office Building where the hearing was held is considerably higher than a normal room.
What followed during the rest of the six-plus hours of the hearing was a procession of Republicans pointing to dozens of examples drawn from the thousands of documents, emails, telephone texts, and memoranda detailing what they claimed were illustrations of a decade and more of influence-peddling by the president's son Hunter Biden and his business associates selling access to the "Big Guy" in return for at least $24 million from entities in at least 23 foreign countries.
Democrats, in turn, repeatedly mocked the hearing as a waste of time, in the words of Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio), consisting of nothing more than "baseless allegations and facts that just don't exist." They also argued that former New York City Mayor Rudy Guliani, a close confidante of former President Donald Trump, should be subpoenaed to testify since he allegedly originated the allegations against the Bidens.
Motions were introduced by Mr. Raskin and Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.) to issue subpoenas to Mr. Guliani and his former business partner, Lev Parnas, but both motions were defeated on party-line roll-call votes. Democrats repeatedly pointed to a letter by Mr. Parnas claiming there was no substance to the allegations.
Typical of the Democrats' fixation throughout the hearing with President Trump was the cross-examination by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), during which he mockingly substituted the word "Biden" in sentences describing Mr. Trump's past policies, including, for example, his reliance upon son-in-law Jared Kushner in U.S. relations with Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. Mr. Kushner played a key role in negotiating the historic Abraham Accords that paved the way for multiple Arab nations for the first time ever recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
"When President Biden appointed his son to manage U.S. foreign policy, both in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. By the way, that was the son who couldn't qualify for getting a security clearance, which President Biden apparently granted anyhow, and then after leaving the White House, getting a $2 billion business deal because we're told by [hearing witness] Bruce Dubinsky to 'follow the money, especially foreign money.
"Shouldn't that be a concern to us that maybe a sweetheart deal occurred with foreign money and the blessing of the president?" Mr. Connolly asked hearing witness Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina.
When Mr. Gerhardt pointed out that the description fit Mr. Trump rather than Mr. Biden, Mr. Connolly feigned an apology for his confusion, then repeated it several times using other examples.
The contrast in approaches was then vividly illustrated when Mr. Connolly's question was followed by Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) asking witness Mr. Dubinsky about an organizational chart produced by IRS investigators probing Hunter Biden's multiple business practices and allegations of tax evasion.
Mr. Dubinsky is a recognized forensic accounting expert on financial fraud and money laundering, while Mr. Donalds, before entering Congress, was a community banker with extensive experience in evaluating the structural soundness of real estate development ventures.
Mr. Donalds said the Biden organizational chart reminded him of such ventures.
"But the funny thing is, in the business dealings of Hunter Biden, there is no real estate, none at all," Mr. Donalds said, before then asking Mr. Dubinsky what he saw in the chart.
"I see a very complicated structure of entities that are interrelated, and that gives me concern," Mr. Dubinsky replied. "If I were an investigator, I would want to know what's going on in these entities, who is behind them, how is the money moving between them, and what is the substance of the transactions, what is really going on here."
At another point during the hearing, Rep. Lisa McLain (R-Mich.) noted that while he was vice president, Mr. Biden was “directly involved in U.S. anti-corruption efforts in Romania, that’s a fact. On May 14, 2014, Vice President Biden delivered an anti-corruption speech in Romania. On Sept. 28, 2015, the Romanian president visited Vice President Biden at the White House to discuss anti-corruption efforts.
“Ms. McLain then noted that a Russian citizen, Gabriel Popovich, was the subject of a criminal probe for corruption and bribery in that country.
“This committee has reviewed transactions that show the Biden family received money from a foreign company controlled by this corrupt Russian oligarch, Popovich. Five weeks after the Romanian president visited Vice President Biden, Popovich begins paying Hunter Biden and his associate, Rob Walker, through his company, Bladon Enterprises.
“The money from Bladon is deposited directly into Robinson-Walker LLC. Now this LLC is directly operated by Hunter’s known business partner, Rob Walker. These are all facts that we found through the investigation. In November 2015 and again in March 2016, Hunter Biden, who is not registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, meets with the U.S. Ambassador to Romania. Red flag. Then, coincidentally, over $1 million flows to the Bidens.”
At another point during the hearing, Mr. Mfume held up a sign asking, "Where is Rudy?"
And Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) shortly thereafter thanked "Mr. Trump for calling this hearing today." She also argued that committee Republicans were wasting valuable time that should be used to avoid a government shutdown if Congress is unable to agree on a 2024 federal budget before the current fiscal year ends at midnight on Sept. 30.
“What is this hearing actually about? It’s a campaign strategy, it’s a misuse of official resources. It is this committee and loyalists of Donald Trump doing his bidding to bolster his chances of winning back the White House and securing their majority in the next election,” Ms. Stansbury said.
“So I just want to say, I think it’s obvious who the grand puppet master is here ... we see the long arm of Donald Trump, whose fingerprints are all over this sham impeachment.”
Two other witnesses provided testimony during the hearing, including former Assistant Attorney General Eileen O'Connor and George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. Mr. Dubinski, Ms. O'Connor, and Mr. Turley agreed that there was sufficient evidence to justify the impeachment inquiry, and to determine if moving to an actual impeachment was justified, while Mr. Gerhardt disagreed.