Devon Archer, a former business partner of the president’s son, testified behind closed doors of the House Oversight committee about what Republicans in Congress hope will be an excruciating scandal that sinks the Democrats in next year’s presidential campaign.
Some House committee members said afterward that Archer told them President Biden spoke on a speaker phone with his son and business associates something like 20 times over a 10-year period, including when he was vice president.
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The president has insisted for months that he never discussed his son’s highly profitable foreign arrangements. The White House insists, straight-faced, that the Bidens only had a little family conversation and small talk on those calls.
That’s certainly plausible to every father whose kids get into seven-figure deals in Ukraine and China, especially when busy parents aren’t too eager to find out. Maybe the family chat went more like, “By the way, Dad, you’re, um, gonna have a seventh grandchild,” rather than, “Oh, these Ukrainians want to pay me $83,000 a month.”
But there has to be documentation of whatever calls occurred. And if there’s no record, that raises a whole other set of questions. (Remember Rosemary Woods’ 18 1/2-minute gap in transcribing the Watergate tapes?)
When the vice president of the United States enters a room, boards a plane, confers with congressional bigwigs, rides a bike or greets some visiting dignitary, there is an official notation of the time, place and who was there. It might be a brief note like, “The president and first lady are on the beach,” or it could be several pages of detailed transcript.
Surely, if Biden joined some conference calls as vice president, there would be official documentation – if not specifics of what was said.
Despite Bill Clinton’s assertion of privacy, investigators got records of Monica Lewinsky’s visits to the Oval Office 25 years ago. President Trump’s meetings with attorneys and political advisers in the aftermath of his 2020 defeat are part of his latest indictment. When Nixon secretly recorded himself committing felonies, Congress and the courts got the goods on him, Ms. Woods’ erasure notwithstanding.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy recently said it’s time to begin an impeachment inquiry – not formal proceedings, just a tertiary look – against President Biden. The Republicans know impeachment can’t get 67 votes in the Senate, so that was probably just McCarthy’s way of mollifying the farthest-out reaches of the Republican caucus he constantly needs to appease.
Still, impeachment hearings would be a handy get-even device, especially if the likely Biden-Trump rematch comes about next year. OK, the Republicans are saying, you indict our guy and we’ll impeach your guy, and let ‘em rip each other to shreds.
With just a few days of rummaging around in Hunter Biden’s business files and White House logbooks, committee investigators could find records of any conference calls and meetings. Living witnesses, including Secret Service agents, might not recall precisely what was said, but they can say whether a conversation was family chit-chat or global commerce.
Unfortunately, Clinton sort of blew the Secret Service’s cover when agents were required to tell the world what they’d seen.
Conversely, if Biden pere really didn’t phone his son to impress the “family brand” upon business prospects, this whole thing could blow up in the faces of their accusers.
In Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 re-election campaign, the Republicans stupidly claimed that FDR had left his Scot terrier, Fala, behind in the Aleutian Islands and then pulled a destroyer off the line to go fetch the little dog, at a cost of some millions of dollars. It was a total fabrication.
“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, on my wife, or on my sons,” Roosevelt responded. “Not content with that, they now include my little dog Fala.”
It was a master stroke, though inaccurate. The Republicans hadn’t criticized his dog, but the president’s jibe encapsulated a bigger issue – wasteful spending – into something everybody liked, a cute puppy.
Well, the Navy keeps records of where its destroyers go and whether any dogs are on board, so Roosevelt was able to deflect the GOP salvo with laughter.
Biden, with a quick check of the records, ought to be able to show whether he phoned in to his son’s business meetings.
Bill Cotterell is a retired Capitol reporter for United Press International and the Tallahassee Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.