The Biden family corruption scandal gets deeper with every passing day. Speaker Kevin McCarthy finally opened an impeachment investigation in the House last week, and now the first hearing in that investigation has been scheduled for September 28 before the House Oversight Committee.
So what is the potential impeachable offense? You will undoubtedly recall, in the context of the two Trump impeachments, the endless semantic contortions that took place trying to shoe-horn Trump’s conduct into the vague constitutional catchall of “high crimes and misdemeanors” that might support an impeachment. Now, with Biden, the conduct at issue goes by various euphemisms like “the family business,” “business dealings with foreign nationals,” “influence peddling,” “selling access,” or maybe just “corruption.” But are these impeachable offenses?
Well, how about “bribery”? In Biden’s case, there is no need for creative legal argumentation. Biden’s crime is right there in the list set out in Constitution Article II, Section 4:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
And yet for some reason participants in the public discussion of the Bidens’ conduct seem remarkably reluctant to call a spade a spade. The reluctance spans both sides of the political divide, and even extends to the websites of the House of Representatives that discuss the ongoing investigations. Here are a few recent examples (out of hundreds):
- From NBC News, May 10: “The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee mounted more attacks Wednesday against President Joe Biden and his family, alleging that relatives of the president engaged in business with foreign nationals. . . .”
- From ABC News, September 14: “[O]n Capitol Hill, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy this week said he would initiate an impeachment inquiry against President Biden over his alleged role in his son's influence-peddling. . . .”
- From the New York Post, August 14: “The evidence that President Joe Biden benefited directly from son Hunter’s influence-peddling operation just keeps mounting.”
- From PBS, today: “Republicans — led by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — have contended in recent weeks that Biden’s actions from his time as vice president show a “culture of corruption,” and that his son used the “Biden brand” to advance his business with foreign clients.”
- Or even from the House Oversight Committee itself, September 13: “There is mounting evidence that Joe Biden was involved in his family’s influence peddling schemes, including while he served as Vice President.”
“Bribery” is not a complicated crime to understand. It has its own section of the U.S. criminal statutes, 18 U.S.C. Section 201. In case there were any doubt what this is about, the title of the section is “Bribery of public officials and witnesses.” Here are the parts of that section relevant to Biden’s conduct:
(b) Whoever—(2) being a public official or person selected to be a public official, directly or indirectly, corruptly . . . seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for:
(A) being influenced in the performance of any official act; . . . shall be fined under this title or not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value, whichever is greater, or imprisoned for not more than fifteen years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.
Read through that, and you find that the crime of bribery of a public official only has three elements:
(1) “corruptly seek[ing], receiv[ing] [or] accept[ing] anything of value”; (2) “in return for”; and (3) “being influenced in the performance of any official act.”
Of the various instances of corruption involving Joe Biden, the facts relating to Hunter Biden’s service on the Burisma board of directors most closely track the specific elements of the bribery statute. As to seeking, receiving or accepting anything of value, Hunter was paid at least $3 million over several years for board service that involved minimal work and no visible contribution to the enterprise other than access to his father. The board service began in 2014, when Joe was Vice President, and immediately after Joe was named “point man” for U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine. After a corruption investigation into Burisma in Ukraine began in 2015, Burisma’s number one corporate objective became ending that investigation.
On November 2, 2015 Burisma executive Vadym Pozharsky stated to Hunter Biden in an email that Burisma’s “ultimate purpose” was to “close down” “any cases/pursuits against Nikolay [i.e., Burisma chairman Mykola Zlochevsky] in Ukraine.” Then, according to the Congressional testimony of Hunter Biden’s partner and Burisma co-board member Devon Archer, after a Burisma board meeting in Dubai on December 4, 2015, Zlochevsky and Pozharsky stepped out with Hunter to “call Washington.” A few days later Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Kyiv, and, as he himself has admitted on a widely-viewed videotape, threatened to withhold a billion dollars of U.S. aid to the country unless the prosecutor investigating Burisma was fired. And the prosecutor was fired.
In other words, the prima facie case of all of the elements of bribery is right there. It is what they call a lay down. Sure Biden has a couple of things he claims as defenses — mainly, that all the money went to his son, and that firing the prosecutor was official U.S. policy coming from people other than him. At this point those defenses look very weak, although maybe Biden can make something out of them.
But the fundamental point is that this is not situation of murky facts that somehow need to be contorted and shoe-horned into some obscure statute in order to make out a possible impeachable offense. This is a case where the prima facie case of a crime, and of a constitutionally enumerated impeachable offense, is right there in front of our eyes. And the crime in question is the main bribery statute.
It’s high time that everybody stopped calling Biden’s alleged wrongdoing by euphemisms like “influence peddling” or “foreign business dealings” — neither of which are terms specifically referencing an impeachable offense, let alone a crime. We should all start using the correct and obviously applicable constitutional and statutory term, which is “bribery.”