Rather than appear before the House Oversight Committee for a closed-door deposition on Dec. 13, Hunter Biden made a public statement on the steps of the Capitol lambasting “MAGA Republicans.” In what appeared to be a campaign-style rebuttal, he stated that “my father was not involved in my business. In the depths of my addiction, I was extremely irresponsible with my finances, but to suggest that is grounds for an impeachment inquiry is beyond the absurd. It’s shameless.”
House Oversight and Judiciary Committees Chairmen James Comer (R-KY) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) had earlier made clear that if the younger Biden refused to appear, he would be held in contempt of Congress. But what does that entail – and is this a serious business for the president’s son?
We spoke with Liberty Nation’s Legal Affairs Editor Scott D. Cosenza to get the rundown.
Mark Angelides: Is deciding not to turn up for a deposition an option that is available? I always thought that was strictly a compelled appearance.
Scott D. Cosenza: People don’t sit down for depositions because they prefer to – participation is required. A typical lawsuit would include an order for depositions, and attorneys would involve a judge in the scheduling of those only if there were substantial difficulties in getting them completed.
MA: Now that the House chairmen have said they will “initiate contempt of Congress proceedings,” against Hunter, what does that procedure look like? What is the punishment for this?
SDC: The relevant committee would have to report a contempt resolution to the full House. A vote on the contempt resolution would have to pass by a simple majority of the House for further action. If passed, the contempt citation would be given to President Joe Biden’s appointee as US Attorney for the District of Columbia, Matthew Graves. Will he elect to bring a case against Hunter Biden? Graves has been responsible for most of the Jan. 6 prosecutions, exhibiting no mercy for participants in the riot, however tangentially. Since the decision to prosecute is 100% political, determined by appointees chosen by President Biden, I would bet against it.
MA: Is it not legally in Hunter Biden’s best interest to turn up for the proceedings and just plead the Fifth Amendment?
SDC: There may be sound political reasons for Hunter Biden to have performed as he did on Wednesday. For his penal interest, though, he should not have said a word. As the saying goes, “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” The younger Biden is facing a mountain of charges and more than 40 years behind bars in the unlikely event he’s convicted and sentencing doesn’t go well. Out-of-court statements such as Hunter Biden’s cannot be introduced to help him in a criminal trial, but they may be introduced to hurt him.
MA: What role are the latest felony and misdemeanor charges playing in the decision not to appear? Do they have any impact on how the House committees deal with him, or even how he deals with them?
SDC: Hunter Biden’s impending criminal charges should factor into a decision not to testify. Appearing, however, and asserting one’s right to be free from incriminating questions is the proper form, and one that would be put quickly in service of his father’s political enemies. Sadly, that is a result of the common misconception of Americans of all political stripes who think the innocent have nothing to fear from prosecutors.
Hunter Biden Parses Words
MA: Jordan made an interesting point yesterday regarding the precise use of language by Hunter:
“He said his father was not financially involved in the business. And I think that qualifier, the word ‘financially,’ is important because, once again, it shows another change in this story.
“First, it was no involvement. Then no one ever, ever talked to anyone, and then we find out about the dinners, the meetings, the phone calls, everything else … Now, it’s okay, he wasn’t involved in the business financially. I think that is important. It’s one of the reasons we want to talk to Hunter Biden.”
Hunter is a lawyer, and his speech on the Capitol steps was almost certainly prepared by a team of lawyers, so we can assume that each word was weighed and measured. In your opinion as a lawyer, would you say Jordan has a point about the change in language?
SDC: I can’t help but be reminded of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Their responses to allegations of misconduct gave rise to the colloquialism “Clintonian” – an answer that could be defensible only through a hypertechnical analysis of the words used. Speaking in a way that may survive a perjury charge but not common understanding may certainly be at play here.
MA: Turning slightly to the political here, Scott, Joe Biden was asked regarding “people who defy congressional subpoenas” whether they should “be prosecuted by the Justice Department.” He answered swiftly and unequivocally, “Yes.” Is he regretting those words now?
SDC: Underestimate the hypocrisy of politicians at your peril.