The Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee appeared to grow frustrated Wednesday as he struggled to respond to a series of questions at a news conference related to his panel’s investigation into President Joe Biden and allegations of influence peddling.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., had highlighted what he characterized as “evidence of corruption and misconduct” tied to Biden, including a June 2017 message that his son Hunter allegedly sent to a business associate on the messaging platform WhatsApp.
Referring to the WhatsApp message, Smith said that Hunter Biden told a business associate that he was not willing to “sign over my family’s brand.”
“It is clear,” Smith said, that Hunter Biden was referring to “Vice President Joe Biden’s political power and influence.”
“The very existence of this file makes it abundantly clear that IRS investigators were concerned there was in fact a connection between Hunter Biden’s global influence peddling, Joe Biden, and official U.S. government activity,” he added.
When pressed by NBC News reporter Ryan Nobles on the timing of the message, which according to the panel’s records was sent after Biden concluded his second term as vice president but before his 2020 campaign, and how Biden could have been exerting political influence if he wasn’t in office or a presidential candidate, Smith sidestepped the question.
“Well, I think the facts speak for themselves. There’s over 700 pages of examples of where people should be very concerned,” Smith said, adding later that Biden “was a candidate” during that period.
Biden launched his 2020 bid in April 2019.
During the news conference, Smith also pointed to an August 2020 email from U.S. Attorney Lesley Wolf allegedly directing investigators to remove all mentions of Biden, who was referred to as “political figure one,” from a search warrant for an investigation involving his son. Wolf had been part of U.S. Attorney David Weiss’ team investigating Hunter Biden.
Asked by Nobles about the timing of Wolf’s email, sent during the Trump administration when Bill Barr was U.S. attorney general, Smith suggested that Donald Trump’s role as president was inconsequential to the underlying assertion that there’s a two-tiered justice system in the United States.
“It doesn’t matter who’s in the White House,” Smith said. “We need to make sure the Department of Justice works for all people and doesn’t treat those who are politically connected or wealthy much differently. And unfortunately, we have several examples that came forward by the two IRS whistleblowers, that proves that people are treated differently because they’re politically connected.”
When pressed further about the timing of the presented documents and how they showed evidence of wrongdoing, Smith said, “I’m not an expert on the timeline. I would love to have President Biden and his family to tell us about all the timelines.”
The comments come a day before the House Oversight Committee holds its first impeachment inquiry hearing focused on the president.
The Republican-led probes by the Judiciary, Oversight, and Ways and Means committees into Biden and his family have not produced evidence that the president was involved in his son’s business dealings or the government’s investigation into Hunter Biden.
The Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday voted 24-17 along party lines to release documents from IRS whistleblowers.
Smith said in a statement that he believed the material, which consists of 700 pages of documents from IRS whistleblowers Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, “is vital to understanding efforts by top officials to protect Joe Biden.”
The committee’s ranking Democratic member Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said in a separate press event Wednesday that Republicans had presented “no conclusive new information.”
In response to a request for comment, Sharon Yang, a White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations said, “House Republicans have again cried wolf and provided no evidence tying President Biden to wrongdoing.”