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GOP struggles to set the stage for impeachment inquiry hearing

Several Republicans spent Wednesday setting the stage for their first impeachment inquiry hearing. They got tripped up — again — by their lack of evidence.


The fact that the House Oversight Committee will, in just a few hours, kick off its first impeachment inquiry hearing remains a bewildering detail. Congressional Republicans have spent the year trying to uncover incriminating evidence against President Joe Biden; they’ve failed spectacularly; and yet they’re proceeding as if their investigation hasn’t been a debacle.

As my MSNBC colleague Jordan Rubin explained, as the GOP’s probe enters “its next embarrassing chapter,” it remains “a solution in search of a problem.”

Republican officials have heard plenty of analysis along these lines, which is why they spent much of yesterday trying to come up with justifications for their own evidence-free crusade. As NBC News reported, it didn’t go especially well.

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 the committee’s investigation into President Joe Biden and allegations of influence peddling.

As part of a Capitol Hill press conference, Rep. Jason Smith presented what he saw as “evidence of corruption and misconduct”: A June 2017 message that his son Hunter allegedly sent to a business associate.

There was, however, a fairly obvious problem with the claim: In June 2017, Joe Biden was a private citizen with no office, no governmental authority, and no access to the levers of power. The Delaware Democrat wasn’t even taking steps at that point toward a presidential campaign. Whatever his son may or may not have been telling people, the then-former-vice president wasn’t in a position to engage in “corruption and misconduct.”

Pressed by NBC News reporter Ryan Nobles about the timing of the message, the Missouri Republican — the chairman one of Congress’ most powerful committees — was reduced to saying, “I’m not an expert on the timeline.”

Or put another way, Smith didn’t appear prepared for a question he probably should’ve asked himself before holding a press conference.

Making matters slightly worse, this came on the heels of a related incident, in which Republicans on the House Oversight Committee published a lengthy timeline purporting to show Biden family influence peddling. An analysis from The New Republic “found at least 19 mistakes or misleading details — from mixed-up dates to messages and meetings that never happened. And nowhere does the timeline show actual wrongdoing by the president.”

After such a misstep, common sense suggested that the party would exercise greater caution. Instead, the day before a big hearing, the public heard the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee say, “I’m not an expert on the timeline” in response to the misguided “evidence” he was trying to present.

Unfortunately for Republicans, it was not the only misstep in the runup to the first impeachment inquiry hearing. Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer also tried to push something new related to Hunter Biden using his father’s address, which proved wholly uninteresting.

Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett announced that he’d participated in a closed-door executive session of the House Ways and Means Committee, regarding the release of 700 pages of documents designed to fuel the impeachment inquiry, and he confirmed that Republicans “had no evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden, with the exception of claims by one discredited witness interviewed by Tucker Carlson.”

The Texan added that members were presented with little more than “half-truths, innuendo, and speculation.”

If yesterday’s efforts were designed to give today’s hearing a boost, it’s probably best to keep expectations low as GOP inquisitors take their next pointless steps.