By NOMAAN MERCHANT, FARNOUSH AMIRI and ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Intelligence officials had gathered to brief select members of Congress on future threats to U.S. elections when a key lawmaker in the room, No. 3 House Republican Elise Stefanik of New York, tried to move the discussion to a new topic: Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Stefanik, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, asked the officials during the April 1 briefing whether they had any evidence of Russian involvement in the release of Biden’s laptop to the news media in the fall of 2020 — a possibility floated by high-ranking former government officials in the weeks before the presidential election. Intelligence officials told Stefanik the question would be better answered by law enforcement.
Stefanik’s query, shared with The Associated Press by a person who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting, reflects a widespread sentiment in the GOP that questions about the financial dealings of President Joe Biden’s son remain unanswered. And they say they intend to do something about it.
As Republicans prepare for a possible return to power amid rising hopes of winning the House and the Senate in the November elections, they are laying the groundwork to make Hunter Biden and his business dealings a central target of their investigative and oversight efforts.
Republican lawmakers and staff have discussed analyzing specific messages and financial transactions found on the laptop and have also discussed issuing congressional subpoenas to foreign entities involved in paying Hunter Biden, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The conversations have been in the early stages but have included talks of bringing on Republican lawyers and former Justice Department officials to help lead the investigations, the people said.
The White House in turn is preparing to defend the Democratic president from any allegations of wrongdoing and make the case that Republicans are driven by opportunism. Democrats are likely to point out how Republicans did not seek investigations into President Donald Trump’s own business pursuits in Russia and China or into the foreign dealings of his children and son-in-law while they held key campaign or White House roles.
It all raises the possibility of a messy, politically explosive showdown between a GOP-controlled Congress and the White House, one that could delve deeply into the affairs of the president’s family and shape the contours of the 2024 race for the White House.
Hunter Biden’s taxes and foreign business work are already under federal investigation, with a grand jury in Delaware hearing testimony in recent months. While he never held a position on the presidential campaign or in the White House, Hunter Biden’s membership on the board of a Ukrainian energy company and his efforts to strike deals in China have long raised questions about whether he traded on his father’s public service, including reported references in his emails to the “big guy.”
Joe Biden has said he’s never spoken to his son about his foreign business. And there are no indications that the federal investigation involves the president in any way. The White House declined to comment, and a lawyer for Hunter Biden did not respond to an email.
Republican leaders see Hunter Biden as a unifying force that can bring together different factions of the GOP and potentially satiate those calling for more dramatic action. Some members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus have said the first order of business for a Republican majority should be an impeachment trial of Joe Biden in retaliation for the two impeachments of Trump.
There’s also increasing discussion among Republicans about urging the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel, said people familiar with the matter.
“Hunter Biden’s fair game because I believe Hunter Biden is a national security risk,” said Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, who is in line to take over the House Oversight Committee if Republicans win the House. “Hopefully, when I get the gavel, we’ll take it a step further.”
In preparation, Comer’s oversight staff has already begun to make document requests and archived information related to the president’s son.
The New York Post first reported in October 2020 that it had received from Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, a copy of a hard drive of a laptop that Hunter Biden had dropped off 18 months earlier at a Delaware computer repair shop and never retrieved.
The story was greeted with skepticism due to questions about the laptop’s origins, including Giuliani’s involvement, and because top officials in the Trump administration had already warned that Russia was working to denigrate Joe Biden ahead of the November election. The Kremlin had also interfered in the 2016 race by hacking Democratic emails that were subsequently leaked.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee now want to probe the origins of a widely shared letter from 50 former intelligence officials released a week after the New York Post story. The letter claimed the laptop carried “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation” and suggested that “the Russians are involved in the Hunter Biden email issue.”
Joe Biden in the second presidential debate, responding to Trump’s reference to the “laptop from hell,” said “there are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that what he’s accusing me of is a Russian plant.” That statement went further than the letter, though it was immediately and widely reported as having labeled the laptop as disinformation. Trump and many Republicans accused Biden of invoking Russia to avoid scrutiny about his son.
No evidence has emerged since of any Russian connections to the laptop or the emails. A declassified U.S. intelligence assessment of the 2020 election alleged that Russian leader Vladimir Putin authorized multiple efforts in support of Trump. Russian state media amplified “disparaging content” about Biden “including stories centered on his son,” the assessment said, which also alleges Putin had “purview” over the activities of a Ukrainian lawmaker who met with Giuliani.
Giuliani’s attorney, Robert Costello, called allegations that the Russians were behind the laptop “absurd.” Stefanik in a statement said “any alleged attempt by the intelligence agencies or intelligence community leadership to portray the facts surrounding Hunter Biden’s laptop as misinformation needs to be investigated and prosecuted.”
Meanwhile, GOP Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who in 2020 issued a report on Hunter Biden and his work on behalf of Ukraine gas company Burisma, recently made a presentation on the Senate floor laying out allegations they say the media have ignored but the Justice Department and Congress need to investigate.
“The Biden administration has been totally unresponsive to our oversight requests,” Grassley said.
For now, the Biden administration and many top Democrats are not commenting publicly on Hunter Biden. But the White House has already reassigned communications staff to prepare to respond to GOP investigations of Hunter Biden and other likely targets, including the origins of the coronavirus and the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Democrats are expected to argue that Hunter Biden is ultimately a distraction to most voters concerned about domestic issues. The current House Oversight chair, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, previewed that argument in a statement responding to Comer, her Republican counterpart.
Said Maloney: “I’d hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would be more focused on delivering for the American people than on phony outrage.”
Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.