As House Republicans rush to argue that the FBI search of Donald Trump's home is marred by politics, they are readying a future Hunter Biden investigation designed to ensnare Joe Biden ahead of a potential reelection bid.
House Republicans see no contradiction between their suspicion of the FBI's law enforcement activity at Mar-a-Lago and their interest in digging into the business dealings of the president's son and other family members. Oversight of the Bidens, they contend, would counterbalance what they see as a Justice Department where partisanship influences decisions like the probe of 2020 election subversion that's drawing closer to Trump.
But the House GOP's eagerness to say the quiet part out loud about their Biden investigation, injecting presidential politics into an already acrimonious chamber, underscores how far it has come since Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy took intra-party heat in 2015 for touting the electoral payoff of an investigation into Hillary Clinton.
These days, Republicans are making no secret of their plans to use a Hunter Biden inquiry next year as a platform to go after his father - after years of brushing off conflicts of interest within Trump's family. No evidence has emerged to show that the business dealings of Hunter Biden, who's faced a years-long federal investigation, affected his father's decisions as president.
GOP lawmakers are pushing ahead anyway, planning a sprawling probe that will reach into the ethics of Hunter Biden's artwork sales and other business deals, as well as policy decisions by the Biden administration.
"I'm not exactly sure I see a big difference" between starting with Hunter and incorporating Joe Biden from the getgo, said Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), a member of the Oversight Committee, which is expected to take the lead on a House inquiry into Hunter Biden. "Obviously, you start with Hunter … [but] it appears as though the president is involved as well, and it's something you're going to have to look into."
The president's son has long fueled a conservative media fixation on par with Hillary Clinton's handling of classified material, and a House majority would help Republicans try to push their narrative into the mainstream. But GOP plans to poke at Hunter Biden may have to compete with a growing GOP appetite for an in-depth House inquiry into the DOJ's scrutiny of Trump, particularly if Republicans decide to form a select committee instead of launching an investigation through the Judiciary Committee.
Conversations Tuesday with more than a half-dozen House Republicans revealed deep concern about constituents panicked and infuriated by the FBI's daylong Mar-a-Lago search.
"The base has lost its mind. If Trump decides to call them to arms, then I think he could get another Jan. 6," one senior House Republican said in an interview, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But before this week's law enforcement activity against Trump, House Republicans had been homing in on Hunter, and several name-checked him in their response to the FBI's search. Months before an election that will determine whether they control the House, GOP lawmakers and committee aides are already doing prep work, including planning hearings, collecting documents and nailing down potential witnesses - including former business associates and banks.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), set to chair the Oversight Committee if Republicans win the majority, said he'll be ready to formally launch an investigation in January, when the new Congress is sworn in.
"We're going to have a great hearing early on the potential wrongdoing within the Biden family," Comer said in an interview. "The fear is that these shady business dealings have compromised the president."
Comer declined to name the witnesses he'd like to call, simply saying they'd be some of Hunter Biden's former business associates. Hunter Biden will be invited to testify and it is "very possible" the First Son would be subpoenaed, he added.
The Oversight chair-in-waiting is prepared to answer critics who say his work is manufactured to ding Joe Biden; he insisted that House Republicans wouldn't investigate Hunter Biden as a "political witch hunt." But other Republicans are more open in depicting their broader oversight as a way to tee up a 2024 election where they hope to win back the White House.
"That will help frame up the 2024 race, when I hope and I think President Trump is going to run again. And we need to make sure that he wins," Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who's set to chair the Judiciary Committee under a 2023 GOP majority, said at a CPAC conference in Texas late last week.
It would hardly be the first time a congressional investigation has converged with presidential politics, nor the first Hill investigation into Hunter Biden and by extension the wider Biden family. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) conducted a joint probe of Hunter Biden heading into the 2020 election, sparking warnings from fellow Republicans about unintentionally spreading Russian disinformation.
But House Republicans are planning a more sweeping look: Comer fired off a laundry list of topics to delve into, including Hunter Biden's work in China and an ethics agreement governing Hunter Biden's art sales that's been questioned by Obama-era officials.
Then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last year that ethics arrangements governing sales of the art were "not White House arrangements; they're arrangements between Hunter Biden's representatives and ones that we, certainly, were made aware of."
Comer is using material from a laptop linked to Hunter Biden that's attracted controversy, though he underscored that he's interested in the Biden son's finances, not salacious personal details.
In addition, Oversight Committee Republicans are still seeking Treasury Department suspicious activity reports relevant to Hunter Biden, though they've complained of an inability to obtain the material without Democratic support.
Treasury responded by indicating that its policy of requiring a committee chair or majority of members to OK requests for those reports applies regardless of political party. Some Democrats have also bristled over the department's handling of suspicious activity reports.
"Since the beginning of this Administration, Treasury has made SARs available in response to authorized committee requests and continues to engage on the process with any individual members seeking information," Treasury spokesperson Mike Gwin said in a statement.
Democrats are already excoriating the GOP's investigative plans, accusing Republicans of selectively attacking Biden while ignoring ethical lapses during the Trump years.
"To borrow an old line, every time these Republicans open their mouths, it's a noun, a verb, and Hunter Biden. They are pushing false conspiracy theories in a desperate effort to attack the President personally and politically, all in service - as they have admitted - of assisting another Trump campaign. And the public will see it for what it is: an abuse of power," a person close to Biden said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Current Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that if Comer "is concerned about presidential conflicts of interest, I would welcome him to join me in investigating taxpayer funds spent at Trump properties, serious deficiencies in President Trump's financial disclosures, foreign government spending at the former Trump Hotel," and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner's ties to Saudi Arabia.
That criticism doesn't faze House Republicans, who view this week's search of Mar-a-Lago as further evidence that federal investigations are biased against conservatives - despite the role that one played in derailing Clinton's 2016 campaign.
"When contrasted with their actions following Clinton-inspired Russian collusion allegations, [the] Clinton [email] server and Hunter Biden, the impression is strong that the FBI is selective and politicized," said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who represents a swing district.
And Comer, when asked about critics who cite Trump world conflicts of interest, described those as well-trodden ground by others.
"It is not like they are disagreeing on Hunter Biden," Comer said, adding that "what I say is, 'There are plenty of people investigating the Trump kids.'"
Olivia Beavers contributed.