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Biden impeachment inquiry end game comes into focus, but moderate Republicans still not sold

<i>Getty Images</i><br/>From left to right
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By Annie Grayer and Melanie Zanona, CNN

House Republicans are prepared to enter the last stage of their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, with committee chairmen focusing on a remaining list of high-profile interviews and starting to strategize over a final report that will likely include criminal referrals and serve as their bedrock for potential impeachment articles.

But even as their endgame comes into focus, it’s unclear how long the effort will take or whether House Republicans leading the effort will be able to convince enough of their GOP colleagues that Biden himself committed any high crimes or misdemeanors – a key hurdle that they have yet to overcome.

That means the stakes couldn’t be higher for this critical stretch of the probe. While key committees have been investigating Biden and his family’s business deals all year, the inquiry was only officially launched two months ago and has already suffered several setbacks. That includes an opening hearing that was even criticized by some in the GOP and a three-week period where the entire House was paralyzed without a speaker.

“I think we have to get this done as soon as possible and then present our findings to the conference and see where we go,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, told CNN.

Both Jordan and House Oversight Chairman James Comer, who have been at the forefront of their party’s effort to investigate the president and his family, have narrowed their respective investigations to a collective key group of nearly 30 witnesses they want to interview, including the president’s brother James and son Hunter, both chairmen told CNN. In recent days, Comer has said in media appearances that subpoenas for Biden family members are “imminent.”

The end of the inquiry is still likely months away. And securing testimony from the high-profile members of the president’s family will be challenging and time-consuming, leaving investigators to decide whether it’s worth waiting or risk dragging into the election year.

They did, however, secure an interview with the special counsel overseeing the Hunter Biden criminal probe, David Weiss, for Tuesday, which is unprecedented given that the case is ongoing.

A spokesperson for special counsel David Weiss, Wyn Hornbuckle, said in a statement to CNN ahead of Tuesday’s interview that Weiss will be testifying voluntarily about the “scope of his authority” which has come under intense scrutiny after allegations launched by whistleblowers with the Internal Revenue Service.

“Mr. Weiss is prepared to take this unprecedented step of testifying before the conclusion of his investigation to make clear that he’s had and continues to have full authority over his investigation and to bring charges in any jurisdiction. Consistent with department policy and the law, he will be unable to address the specifics of his investigation,” Hornbuckle said.

At every turn, House Democrats and the White House have dismissed the allegations against the president and poked holes in the Republican-led investigation.

In a statement to CNN, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland said, “There is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the President, much less evidence of an impeachable offense. They can shift from public hearings to closed-door depositions, but the facts don’t change.”

When the inquiry does wrap, it will fall on newly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson to make arguably the most consequential decision of his short tenure – whether to open impeachment proceedings. Johnson, who, since taking the gavel, has shifted his tone from outspoken proponent to measured realist when speaking about the inquiry, now represents moderate Republicans who helped deliver the majority and are not yet supportive of the effort.

“I think we just have to socialize the evidence with more of the members,” GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a Judiciary Committee member, said, acknowledging that the full House GOP conference is still not behind the effort.

But, with the right-wing base both in Congress and around the country growing restless, Johnson acknowledged a decision needs to be made soon.

“I do believe that very soon, we are coming to a point of decision on it,” Johnson said at a recent news conference. “A lot of American people are anxious about this, many Republicans across the country are anxious to get to the endpoint on this, and I think some Democrats want to know how it ends as well.”

What’s left on the to-do list

Comer is racing to complete at least 25 interviews when his panel has only done five pertaining to his investigations into the president so far.

He told CNN he had wanted to obtain more bank records and information before calling in key witnesses like high profile members of the president’s family.

“If you watch conservative media, conservative groups, you know, they’ve been for months saying ‘Why haven’t you brought these people in?’” Comer said. “I’ve not bent to pressure. I’ve tried to do this right. And we’ve got all this information now. Now we can bring people in and lay down a bank statement.”

Even members of the conference think the subpoenas to Hunter and James Biden should have happened sooner, with some blaming former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“The subpoenas to Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family should have already happened,” Gaetz told CNN. “I think we are in a diminished position because the former speaker was dilatory. And so we might have to do some pretty high intensity catch up.”

In this next phase, Comer said he is not in a rush to do more hearings, and instead plans to film his interviews and depositions like the House Select Committee investigating the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack did. He blamed the first inquiry hearing on the Democrats and not on his witnesses who said the evidence did not rise to the level of impeachment.

Comer thinks conducting interviews are going to be “easier” than acquiring bank records, and scoffed at the idea that pursuing the testimony of the president’s son and brother could take months or might not happen.

“I mean I would want to come in and clear my name, wouldn’t you?” he asked.

Comer doesn’t believe that the two checks from James Biden to the president his panel has revealed were loan repayments, despite evidence showing otherwise. And even if they were loans he still believes the evidence is damning: “Say it was a loan. They wouldn’t have paid him back if he hadn’t gotten the money from the influence pyramid schemes.”

While Comer believes the interviews are key to conduct before closing the inquiry, he thinks enough evidence has been gathered to impeach the president.

“I think that what we’ve uncovered is impeachable, but it’s not my job, and it’s not my responsibility to impeach. That would be the speaker and the Judiciary Committee,” Comer told CNN.

Jordan, meanwhile, wants to conduct interviews with three Department of Justice officials whose testimony he has been fighting over since June: tax division attorneys Jack Morgan and Mark Daly and Assistant US Attorney Lesley Wolf for their involvement in the Hunter Biden criminal case.

His panel subpoenaed Morgan and Daly this fall when the DOJ refused to make them available for voluntary interviews. The Justice Department offered Jordan instead much more high profile officials, including sitting and former US attorneys whom his panel interviewed, but Jordan still wants the more junior employees.

“There’s going to be a fight I think on Morgan and Daly so that may take a little longer that I would hope for or what anyone would hope for,” Jordan said.

Even after months of investigating, Jordan still believes the most “compelling evidence” against the president is a recycled allegation that Joe Biden was improperly trying to help Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company, when Biden pressured the Ukrainian government as vice president in the mid-2010s to fire the country’s prosecutor general.

But there is no public evidence has that shows Biden committed any wrongdoing in relation to the prosecutor, whose failure to prosecute corruption had been criticized at the time by a variety of US government officials, Ukrainian anti-corruption activists and international entities.

‘I don’t think it’s right for the country’

It’s clear that investigators have their work cut out for them in convincing 218 of their colleagues to back impeachment articles – particularly with the 18 Republicans who represent districts carried by Biden.

“I think it’s better to let the election solve this,” said Rep. Don Bacon, a moderate Nebraska Republican. “I know a lot of people say they want revenge. I don’t think it’s right for the country. But we’ll see the case that they make.”

Freshman Rep. Mike Lawler, who represents a key swing district in New York, was non-committal when asked if he’s ready to back impeachment.

“The process is still ongoing. So yeah, we’ll let the process play itself out,” Lawler told CNN. “We’ll see what comes out.”

Even members involved in the inquiry know that the evidence doesn’t clear the key hurdles needed to move forward.

​​“Obviously it’s very damning on Hunter, but Hunter is not the president. So that’s the case they need to make if they plan on making it,” GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who serves on the Ways and Means Committee, said of the evidence and task in front of Jordan and Comer.

But California Rep. Tom McClintock, a GOP member of the Judiciary Committee who has been skeptical of impeachment, signaled some openness to the idea, though made clear he’s not quite there yet.

“The evidence is mounting that would meet the definition of bribery in the Constitution,” he said. “I want to see it all laid out first. And I want to hear what the president has to say for himself. That’s due process.”

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, also a California Republican, echoed a similar sentiment.

“It sure looks like a lot of great evidence but no, it probably isn’t quite in the nice package with the bowtie on top of it yet,” he said.

Other Republicans, including some in more conservative districts, said the impeachment inquiry just isn’t top of mind for them – another sign of how investigators are going to need to build serious momentum in the final stage of the inquiry.

“I’ve got so many other things to worry about. That ain’t one of them,” said Rep. Steve Womack, a Arkansas Republican.

Added Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama: “I don’t think anything about it.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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