Hunter Biden appears at House hearing as Republicans consider holding him in contempt

Hunter Biden made a surprise appearance at a congressional hearing on Wednesday, as Republicans on the US House oversight committee convened to consider a resolution to hold the US president’s son in contempt of Congress over his refusal to comply with a subpoena for testimony.

Appearing with his attorney Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden sat silently in the front row of the hearing room as the chair and vice-chair of the oversight committee delivered their opening statements.

“We will not provide Hunter Biden with special treatment because of his last name,” said James Comer, the Republican chair of the committee. “All Americans must be treated equally under the law. That includes the Bidens.”

Jamie Raskin, the Democratic vice-chair of the committee, hit back by reminding Republicans that Hunter Biden had offered to testify at a public hearing. Raskin also noted that some Republican lawmakers, including House judiciary committee chair Jim Jordan, had defied subpoenas issued by the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

“We are here today because the chairman has bizarrely decided to obstruct his own investigation and is now seeking to hold Hunter Biden in contempt after he accepted the chairman’s multiple public offers to come answer the committee’s questions under oath before the American people,” Raskin said.

The hearing quickly descended into chaos as Nancy Mace, a Republican of South Carolina, attacked Hunter Biden as “the epitome of white privilege”.

“What are you afraid of? You have no balls,” Mace said. “I think that Hunter Biden should be arrested right here right now and go straight to jail.”

The accusation of Hunter Biden being “afraid” to face House Republicans struck Democrats as farcical, given his presence in the hearing room. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat of Florida, interrupted Mace to say, “If the gentlelady wants to hear from Hunter Biden, we can hear from him right now, Mr Chairman. Let’s take a vote and hear from Hunter Biden. What are you afraid of?”

After leaving the hearing room, Lowell delivered a prepared statement to reporters, saying, “Republican chairs today, then, are commandeering an unprecedented resolution to hold somebody in contempt who has offered to publicly answer all their proper questions. The question there is, what are they afraid of?”

Republicans are targeting Biden as part of attempts to portray his father as corrupt and therefore secure his impeachment, as an expected election rematch with Donald Trump looms. House Republicans have presented no evidence proving that Joe Biden profited from his son’s business dealings.

In early December, Hunter Biden, 53, defied a subpoena for testimony to be delivered in private, instead appearing in public on Capitol Hill.

Related: Hunter Biden defies Republican subpoena to give closed-door testimony

“Republicans do not want an open process where Americans can see their tactics, expose their baseless inquiry, or hear what I have to say,” Biden told reporters. “What are they afraid of? I am here.”

On Monday, Comer and Jordan released their contempt resolution and an attendant report. They said: “Hunter Biden’s willful refusal to comply with our subpoenas constitutes contempt of Congress and warrants referral to the appropriate United States attorney’s office for prosecution.”

Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanour criminal offence. As described by the Congressional Research Service, “a witness suffers no direct legal consequence from House or Senate approval of a contempt citation, though a variety of political consequences may [follow].

“If the individual is prosecuted and convicted, violations … are punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment ‘for not less than one month nor more than 12 months’.”

Hunter Biden is already in extensive legal jeopardy. In September, he was indicted in Delaware on three federal charges related to his purchase and ownership of a handgun while experiencing (and lying about) addiction. Facing a sentence of up to 25 years, he pleaded not guilty.

In December, he was indicted in California on nine tax charges carrying a maximum sentence of 17 years. Arraignment is scheduled for Thursday.

Democrats in the minority on the House oversight committee have attempted to make news of their own, last week releasing a report detailing at least $7.8m in payments from 20 countries to Trump business concerns during his four years in power.

Comer called that report “beyond parody” and said: “Former President Trump has legitimate businesses but the Bidens do not.”

In his press conference on 13 December, Hunter Biden said: “There is no evidence to support the allegations that my father was financially involved in my business because it did not happen.”

He also referred to his experiences with addiction and his legal battles.

“I’m here today to acknowledge I have made mistakes in my life and wasted opportunities and privileges I was afforded,” Biden said. “For that, I am responsible. For that, I am accountable. And for that, I am making amends.”

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