POLITICS: Witness Testimony Casts Doubt on Some Biden Impeachment Allegations
As Republicans plunge forward with an impeachment inquiry looking into a complex web of allegations against President Biden, his family and his administration, witnesses they have summoned for closed-door interviews in recent weeks have undercut or pushed back against some of their major claims.
In testimony this month, three witnesses from the F.B.I. and the I.R.S. have contradicted key assertions made by a whistle-blower who claimed there was political interference in the Justice Department’s tax case against Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, according to hundreds of pages of transcripts obtained by The New York Times.
Another former F.B.I. official, whom Republicans have accused of political bias in the Hunter Biden case, Timothy R. Thibault, condemned the allegations against him as “false and misleading.” And a bookkeeper for the Biden family told investigators in an informal interview that he was not aware of any financial wrongdoing by the president, according to notes taken by Democratic congressional aides and summarized in a report they released this week.
The emergence of fresh evidence this week undercutting Republicans’ claims against Mr. Biden is no coincidence. It suggests that, now that the G.O.P. has decided to plow ahead with a formal impeachment inquiry, the president’s allies, including Democrats on Capitol Hill who have access to the many investigative threads Republicans have pursued, have stepped up their efforts to reveal weaknesses in the case.
In announcing this week that the House would move forward with an impeachment inquiry, Speaker Kevin McCarthy detailed an array of what he called “serious and credible allegations” about Mr. Biden’s conduct. Mr. McCarthy asserted that the president corruptly participated in and profited from his son’s foreign business dealings and sought special, more lenient treatment for Hunter Biden in the Justice Department tax case.
Recent testimony casts doubt on both accusations.
On Tuesday, Mr. Thibault, the former F.B.I. agent, sat for a closed-door interview in which he presented a blistering opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee. According to the statement, Mr. Thibault said he had been subject to “baseless allegations” of political interference in the tax case.
Mr. Thibault said he actually had little involvement in the younger Mr. Biden’s case, other than to shut down the use of a confidential source who he discovered was actually a right-wing author whose information he feared would taint the legitimacy of the investigation.
A day earlier, House Democrats released a 14-page memo that noted that Republicans had failed to show that any of Hunter Biden’s international business deals enriched the president.
It emphasized that Eric Schwerin, who performed bookkeeping and other administrative tasks for Mr. Biden when he was vice president and therefore had access to his bank records, told the committee that “he was not aware of any involvement by President Biden in the financial conduct of his relatives’ businesses, much less any transactions into or out of the then-vice president’s bank account related to business conducted by any Biden family member.”
Since the release of that memo, more transcripts of closed-door interviews conducted this month have come to light, showing that multiple witnesses have questioned another key piece of the Republican case: the allegations made by Gary Shapley, an I.R.S. agent turned whistle-blower who testified publicly that the investigation into Hunter Biden was tainted by political interference.
At least three other witnesses — while confirming key aspects of Mr. Shapley’s account — have contradicted some of his other claims, including that David C. Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware overseeing the case against Hunter Biden, told a roomful of senior F.B.I. and I.R.S. investigators on Oct. 7, 2022, that he was “not the deciding person on whether charges are filed.”
“If he would have said that, I would have remembered it,” Thomas Sobocinski, the special agent in charge of the Baltimore field office of the F.B.I., told lawmakers of Mr. Weiss’s comment, adding: “I went into that meeting believing he had the authority, and I have left that meeting believing he had the authority to bring charges.”
That testimony is pivotal because both Attorney General Merrick Garland and Mr. Weiss assured Congress that Mr. Weiss had ultimate authority over when and where to bring charges.
Investigators also asked Ryeshia Holley, assistant special agent in charge with the F.B.I., whether Mr. Weiss had stated that he was not the person who would decide whether charges were filed in the Hunter Biden case.
“I don’t remember him saying that,” she testified.
The witnesses also testified that while they agreed with Mr. Shapley’s concerns that the investigation into Hunter Biden moved too slowly, they did not believe it was because of political interference.
“I did not think anyone involved in the ongoing matter was politicizing it,” Ms. Holley said.
Mr. Shapley’s former boss, Darrell Waldon, the special agent in charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigation division, also told lawmakers on the Ways and Means Committee that he did not witness any political interference. Asked if the case had been politicized, Mr. Waldon said flatly: “No.”
Instead, the witnesses described a more nuanced version of the events — which it appears is emerging as an agreed-upon set of facts — in which Mr. Weiss had sought to partner with prosecutors in Washington, D.C., and California, only to be rebuffed, causing him to try a different approach.
“I understood that there were processes that he had to follow in order to bring the investigation. And if one process didn’t work, I believe there were other processes that he would have to follow,” Mr. Waldon told the committee, adding: “The case was still able to move forward.”
Mr. Waldon did describe a falling-out between Mr. Weiss and Mr. Shapley after the Oct. 7, 2022, meeting in which Mr. Shapley aired his concerns about the handling of the case. After that, the prosecutor refused to speak to the agent, Mr. Waldon said.
“My understanding is that the U.S. attorney stated that he would not be talking with Mr. Shapley henceforth, as they were going through their deliberative process,” Mr. Waldon said, adding: “I recall more vividly him stating he was not going to be responding to Mr. Shapley’s emails anymore, and at some point, he said he would be talking to me.”
With Mr. Weiss refusing to work with Mr. Shapley, Mr. Waldon ultimately recommended Mr. Shapley be removed from the case, “primarily due to what I perceived to be unsubstantiated allegations about motive, intent, bias.”
Mr. Shapley has told Congress he believes the Justice Department wanted his team removed from the case “because we were raising protected disclosures, that they wanted to get rid of us. And it was twofold because we were making disclosures, but also because they knew that our disclosures were valid.”
Mr. Waldon said his recommendation was made “to protect the integrity of the investigation and figure out a way forward.”
Michael Batdorf, the director of field operations for I.R.S. criminal investigations who was one of Mr. Shapley’s bosses, told the committee that Mr. Shapely was known internally for being aggressive.
“Gary has a tendency to go to level, like, Grade 7 five-alarm fire on everything,” Mr. Batdorf said, adding: “Gary is a fantastic agent. He’s a bulldog. He will get to the bottom of it.”But he said that attitude could rub others the wrong way if they disagreed with his approach.
“He has a mind-set that if you don’t agree with him, I mean, you’re just incompetent,” Mr. Batdorf said.
When Mr. Batdorf learned Mr. Weiss was refusing to work with Mr. Shapley, he called it “extremely troubling” and worried about the future of the Hunter Biden case. He said he believed I.R.S. agents had built a strong case and wanted to see it prosecuted.
“I’m willing to remove that investigative team and get that case prosecuted,” he said.
Mr. Batdorf also said he believed there was a chance Mr. Weiss would not have moved forward with the case if Mr. Shapley and another I.R.S. agent had not gone public.
He was asked, “So it’s fair to say, had the whistle-blowers not come forward, this case may still be dormant?”
“It could be,” Mr. Batdorf replied.
Lawyers for Mr. Shapley said that it was “not unusual for people to have slightly different recollections of the same event,” but that he stood by his version. To bolster his account, Mr. Shapley’s lawyers have released his handwritten notes from the meeting. They also point to an email he sent after the meeting recounting what happened, to which his boss, Mr. Waldon, replied, “You covered it all.”
More concerning, they argue, is the testimony shows that Mr. Weiss’s refusal to work with Mr. Shapley led to his removal from the case, and could constitute retaliation.
“Neither S.A.C. Waldon nor U.S. Attorney Weiss expressed any objection to S.S.A. Shapley until the Oct. 7 meeting, when Shapley made protected disclosures about Weiss’s handling of the case and Garland’s testimony to Congress,” Mr. Shapley’s legal team, Empower Oversight, said in a statement. “After that, everything changed. What Waldon calls a ‘breakdown in communication’ was nothing more than retaliation from David Weiss, and the I.R.S. helped facilitate it.”