The initial leaks of the expected testimony were titillating. A former long-time business associate of Hunter Biden was going to tell Congressional investigators about times when Hunter Biden put his father, then-Vice President of the United States, on speaker phone during business meetings.
But when the time came on Monday for lawmakers and House Oversight Committee staff to sit down with Devon Archer for a 3-hour-and-20-minute deposition in a hot, poorly ventilated conference room in the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. House Office Building, the result appeared less damning than the committee’s Republicans had advertised.
Over the years, Hunter Biden had traded on the “illusion” of influence and his famous father’s brand name, but had not been able to influence him, Archer testified, according to Rep. Dan Goldman, a Democrat from New York who sat through the entirety of Archer’s recorded interview on Monday. "Hunter wanted to give off the appearance of having access to his father,” Goldman tells TIME.
Monday’s interview was the latest turn in an intense effort by Republicans in Congress to dig into how Hunter Biden used his father’s famous name to advance his own interests. They have so far have failed to find evidence that Joe Biden himself ever benefited from his son’s dealings.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy is watching for signs that the House investigation uncovers enough to launch an impeachment proceeding against Joe Biden. House Republicans are tracking allegations from two IRS whistleblowers that the Department of Justice went easy on Hunter Biden in a deal that fell apart in front of a federal judge in July, and recent news that a Democratic donor who purchased a pricey painting from an art dealer representing Hunter Biden was named to a presidential commission. But Archer’s testimony delivered less than promised.
Archer and Hunter Biden had worked closely together from the time when they were partners together in the investment firm Rosemont Seneca. They also both served on the board of Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma. Archer testified that Joe Biden spoke to his son Hunter nearly every day, particularly in the months after Hunter’s brother Beau died in May 2015, and he had seen Hunter Biden put Joe Biden on speaker phone during business meetings and with friends about 20 times over 10 years of working together, Goldman said.
But Archer told House investigators that nothing of substance was ever discussed in those calls, according to Goldman. “It was purely small talk, niceties, hello, chitchatting and nothing related to any aspect of any of Hunter Biden’s financial dealings or business dealings,” Goldman says, describing Archer’s testimony.
The two Republicans on the committee who attended the interview, which was also conducted by a former career prosecutor hired by Republicans, said Archer’s testimony backed up their investigation. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio told reporters on Monday that the Archer interview was "very productive." Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona told reporters that Archer testified that the Biden "brand" helped keep Burisma afloat. But Republicans on the committee didn’t stay for all of Archer’s testimony, which was recorded and will be transcribed and shared with all of the committee members. Jordan left 2 hours into Archer’s questioning, when Republican committee members and staff finished their allotted time, and Biggs left during Democrats’ questions, Goldman says.
The committee’s questions focused on the years that Archer spent on the Burisma board with Hunter Biden. Hunter’s time at Burisma has been at the center of a debunked conspiracy theory peddled by Rudy Giuliani that Hunter had convinced Joe Biden to advocate for removing the top prosecutor in Ukraine who was investigating the company. It’s that discredited theory that convinced then-President Trump to withhold aid to Ukraine in an effort to pressure President Vladimir Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden in the run up to the 2020 election, leading to Trump’s first impeachment for misusing the power of his office for personal political leverage.
But Archer told committee members on Monday that Burisma’s board did not view the removal of prosecutor Viktor Shokin as helpful at the time.Joe Biden had joined leaders from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union in calling for Shokin’s removal. Instead of Shokin being a threat to Burisma, as the conspiracy theory supposes, the Burisma board thought it had Shokin “under its control” before being removed, Archer said on Monday, according to Goldman’s description of his testimony.
Archer testified to the committee under subpoena. He’s facing prison time in a separate investigation for the fraudulent issuance and sale of $60 million of tribal bonds. Over the weekend, the Department of Justice asked the judge in the case to schedule a date for Archer’s surrender to prison. Archer’s attorney said he answered questions fully and truthfully on Monday. “We are aware that all sides are claiming victory following Mr. Archer’s voluntary interview today,” said Archer's attorney, Matthew Schwartz, in a statement. “But all Devon Archer did was exactly what we said he would: show up and answer the questions put to him honestly and completely.”
Democrats in Congress took aim at House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer for continuing to investigate Hunter Biden without being able to provide proof that his business dealings involved or benefitted his father. The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, said in a statement on Monday, “Try as he might, Chairman Comer has yet again failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden.”
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