In December 2019, when he was facing impeachment for his scheme to extort Ukraine into smearing his leading political opponent, President Donald Trump warned that his party would take revenge when it had the opportunity. “Some day there’ll be a Democrat president and there’ll be a Republican House, and I suspect they’re going to remember it,” Trump predicted.
That same month, Representative Louie Gohmert proposed Republicans would impeach Joe Biden should he win the upcoming election. “We’ve already got the forms, all we have to do is eliminate Donald Trump’s name and put Joe Biden’s name in there. ’Cause he’s on video, he and his son. He’s basically admitted to the crime that’s being hoisted on the president improperly.”
Note that the proposed grounds for impeaching Biden were already in place. The charge of corruption that Trump was using to smear Biden with was being turned around into grounds for impeaching Biden if and when he assumed office.
“I think this door of impeachable whatever has been opened,” said Republican senator Joni Ernst the next February. “Joe Biden should be very careful what he’s asking for because, you know, we can have a situation where if it should ever be President Biden, that immediately, people, right the day after he would be elected would be saying, ‘Well, we’re going to impeach him.’” Ernst specifically proposed Republicans impeach Biden “for being assigned to take on Ukrainian corruption yet turning a blind eye to Burisma because his son was on the board making over a million dollars a year.”
Indeed, the first motion to impeach Biden was filed the day after his inauguration, by Marjorie Taylor Greene, now a close ally of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The charge, she wrote, was “for abuse of power by enabling bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” “As Vice President, Joseph Biden was the senior Obama Administration official overseeing anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. Hence, any illegal activity involving corruption conducted by Hunter Biden within or in relation to Ukraine would fall under the purview of the Office of Vice President Biden and the Obama State Department’s anti-corruption efforts …” the motion claimed. “The evidence of widespread knowledge, corruption, and collusion on behalf of the Biden family with foreign nationals is clear and compelling.”
That House Republicans are now launching an impeachment inquiry over this very same charge seems not exactly coincidental. It is also not a surprise that Trump has been privately urging House Republicans to impeach Biden.
What has transformed this longstanding desire into an actual impeachment investigation is not any investigative finding, but simply an impatience by Trump and his supporters to get on with it. “Either impeach the bum, or fade into oblivion,” Trump posted. “They did it to us!”
Yet the fact that Republicans have been threatening a revenge impeachment against the next Democratic president literally since Trump’s first impeachment has been oddly absent from news coverage. The Associated Press, in an appropriately skeptical explainer, answers the question of why Republicans are doing this: “Since gaining the House majority in January, House Republicans have aggressively investigated Biden and his son, claiming without evidence that they engaged in an influence-peddling scheme.”
Well, that’s true, but it’s not why Republicans are impeaching Biden. They are impeaching him specifically to even the score with Trump.
That doesn’t mean there is nothing wrong with what Joe Biden did. He let his son sell what Hunter Biden’s business partner described as the illusion of access to his powerful father. Republicans have made unproven claims that Joe Biden actually conducted foreign policy to benefit his son. (The opposite was true: Vice-President Biden helped force Ukraine to fire an ineffectual prosecutor reviled by international good-government types, who had failed to take action against the corrupt energy firm that employed Hunter.)
They have also claimed, on the basis of some cryptic lines in Hunter’s email, but without any firm evidence, that Joe Biden made money from Hunter’s dealings. If that was true, it would mean President Biden has filed false tax returns, a serious crime for which there is no evidence. (When Ken Buck, a conservative Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, admitted there is no evidence Biden profited from Hunter’s business, Republicans responded by threatening to run a primary challenge against him.)
The Hunter Biden episode is certainly sleazy. But it does not involve any official action Joe Biden has taken, nor does it concern anything he has done while serving as president. What’s more, it is a pale imitation of the wanton personal corruption undertaken by the Trump family, which smashed all norms by openly running a family business during the Trump presidency. To take just one example, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, collected $2 billion in investment from a Saudi-run firm, even though the firm’s financial experts registered deep concerns over his experience and general ability. The Saudis, of course, enjoyed a close relationship with Trump during his first term and would stand to gain immensely from a second one.
Whataboutism isn’t a good defense of anything, and it wouldn’t justify Hunter Biden’s less flagrant but still gross behavior. But whataboutism is the main point of impeaching Biden. This whole exercise is intended to use Hunter Biden’s ordinary corruption to legitimize Trump’s extraordinary corruption. We don’t need to pretend otherwise when Republicans already told us.