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Takeaways from President Biden’s first impeachment hearing by House Oversight panel

By Jeremy Herb, Annie Grayer and Marshall Cohen, CNN

(CNN) — House Republicans kicked off their first impeachment inquiry hearing Thursday laying out the allegations they will pursue against President Joe Biden, though their expert witnesses acknowledged Republicans don’t yet have the evidence to prove the accusation they’re leveling.

Thursday’s hearing in the House Oversight Committee didn’t include witnesses who could speak directly to Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealing at the center of the inquiry, but the hearing offered Republicans the chance to show some of the evidence they’ve uncovered to date.

None of that evidence has shown Joe Biden received any financial benefit from his son’s business dealings, but Republicans said at Thursday’s hearing what they’ve found so far has given them the justification to launch their impeachment inquiry.

Democrats responded by accusing Republicans of doing Donald Trump’s bidding and raising his and his family’s various foreign dealings themselves, as well as Trump’s attempts to get Ukraine to investigate in 2019 the same allegations now being raised in the impeachment inquiry.

Here’s takeaways from Thursday’s first impeachment inquiry hearing:

GOP witnesses say not enough evidence yet to impeach Biden

While Republicans leveled accusations of corruption against Joe Biden over his son’s business dealings, the GOP expert witnesses who testified Thursday were not ready to go that far.

Forensic accountant Bruce Dubinsky, one of the GOP witnesses, undercut Republicans’ main narrative by saying there wasn’t enough evidence yet for him to conclude that there was “corruption” by the Bidens.

“I am not here today to even suggest that there was corruption, fraud or wrongdoing,” Dubinsky said. “More information needs to be gathered before I can make such an assessment.”

He said there was a “smokescreen” surrounding Hunter Biden’s finances, including complex overseas shell companies, which he said raise questions for a fraud expert about possible “illicit” activities.

Conservative law professor Jonathan Turley also said that the House does not yet have evidence to support articles of impeachment against Joe Biden, but argued that House Republicans were justified in opening an impeachment inquiry.

“I want to emphasize what it is that we’re here today for. This is a question of an impeachment inquiry. It is not a vote on articles of impeachment,” Turley said. “In fact, I do not believe that the current evidence would support articles of impeachment. That is something that an inquiry has to establish. But I also do believe that the House has passed the threshold for an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Biden.”

Turley said that Biden’s false statements about his knowledge of Hunter Biden’s business endeavors, as well as the unproven allegations that Biden may have benefited from his son’s business deals, were reason for the House to move forward with the impeachment inquiry. (CNN has previously reported that Joe Biden’s unequivocal denials of any business-related contact with his son have been undercut over time, including by evidence uncovered by House Republicans.)

Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor, has repeatedly backed up Republican arguments on key legal matters in recent years, including his opposition to Trump’s first and second impeachments.

Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, pushed Turley further on his comments, asking whether he would vote “no” today on impeachment.

“On this evidence, certainly,” Turley said. “At the moment, these are allegations. There is some credible evidence there that is the basis of the allegations.”

GOP maps out questions they want to answer

House Republicans opened their first impeachment hearing Thursday with a series of lofty claims against the president, as they try to connect him to his son’s “corrupt” business dealings overseas.

House Oversight Chairman Rep. James Comer claimed the GOP probes have “uncovered a mountain of evidence revealing how Joe Biden abused his public office for his family’s financial gain,” even though he hasn’t put forward any concrete evidence backing up that massive allegation.

Two other Republican committee chairs further pressed their case, including by citing some of the newly released Internal Revenue Service documents, which two IRS whistleblowers claim show how the Justice Department intervened in the Hunter Biden criminal probe to protect the Biden family. However, many of their examples of alleged wrongdoing occurred during the Trump administration before Joe Biden took office.

Ahead of the hearing, the Republican chairs released a formal framework laying out the scope of their probe, saying it “will span the time of Joe Biden’s Vice Presidency to the present, including his time out of office.”

The document outlines specific lines of inquiry, including whether Biden engaged in “corruption, bribery, and influence peddling” – none of which Republicans have proved yet.

The memo included four questions the Republicans are seeking to answer related to whether Biden took any action related to payments his family received or if the president obstructed the investigations into Hunter Biden.

New subpoenas issued for bank records

House Republicans issued three subpoenas Thursday evening for the personal and business records of the president’s son Hunter Biden and brother James Biden – a move Comer had forecast at the close of the hearing.

Comer and House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan sent the subpoenas to banks for Hunter and James Biden’s records, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

The subpoenas, which redact the recipients, demand the banks turn over the president’s son and brother’s personal and business records from January 1, 2014, to present by October 12.

“The subpoenaed bank records will help the Committees determine whether Joe Biden abused his office by selling access and/or by receiving payments or other benefits in exchange for official acts, which is a critical aspect of the Committees’ impeachment inquiry,” Comer and Jordan wrote.

The move does not come as a surprise, as Comer has been signaling his intention to issue the subpoenas for the personal bank records. They show where Republicans will head next in their investigation as they continue to seek evidence to substantiate their unproven allegations about the president.

Witness testimony frustrates some Republicans

Some inside the GOP expressed frustration to CNN in real time with how the House GOP’s first impeachment inquiry hearing was playing out, as the Republican witnesses directly undercut the GOP’s own narrative and admitted there is no evidence that Biden has committed impeachable offenses.

“You want witnesses that make your case. Picking witnesses that refute House Republicans arguments for impeachment is mind blowing,” one senior GOP aide told CNN. “This is an unmitigated disaster.”

One GOP lawmaker also expressed some disappointment with their performance thus far, telling CNN: “I wish we had more outbursts.”

The bar for Thursday’s hearing was set low: Republicans admitted they would not reveal any new evidence, but were hoping to at least make the public case for why their impeachment inquiry is warranted, especially as some of their own members remain skeptical of the push.

But some Republicans are not even paying attention, as Congress is on the brink of a shutdown – a point Democrats hammered during the hearing.

“I haven’t watched or listened to a moment of it,” said another GOP lawmaker. There’s a shutdown looming.”

Democrats attack inquiry for lacking evidence on the president

Democrats repeatedly pointed out that the Republican allegations about foreign payments were tied to money that went mostly Hunter Biden – but not the to the president.

“The majority sits completely empty handed with no evidence of any presidential wrongdoing, no smoking gun, no gun, no smoke,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the Oversight committee.

Raskin’s staff brought in the 12,000 pages of bank records the committee has received so far, as Raskin said, “not a single page shows a dime going to President Joe Biden.”

Raskin also had a laptop open displaying a countdown clock for when the government shuts down in a little more than two days – another point Democrats used to bash Republicans for focusing on impeachment and failing to pass bills to fund the government. The Democrats passed the laptop around to each lawmaker as they had their five minutes to question the witnesses.

Their arguments also previewed how Democrats intend to play defense for the White House as Republicans move forward on their impeachment inquiry.

The Democrats needled Republicans for not holding a vote on an impeachment inquiry – one Democrat asked Turley whether he would recommend a vote, which Turley said he would.

Democrats push for Rudy to testify

House Democrats’ 2019 impeachment of Trump was sparked by Trump’s attempts to push Ukraine to investigate allegations involving Biden and his son’s position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company – some of the same allegations now being probed by the House GOP.

That led Democrats Thursday to push for testimony from Rudy Giuliani, who as Trump’s personal lawyer sought to dig up dirt on Biden in Ukraine in 2019.

Twice, the Democrats forced the Oversight Committee to vote on Democratic motions to subpoena Giuliani, votes that served as stunts to try to hammer home their argument that Giuliani tried and failed to corroborate the same allegations at the heart of the Biden impeachment inquiry.

“I ask the question: Where in the world is Rudy Giuliani?” said Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Maryland, one of the Democrats who forced the procedural vote. “That’s how we got here, ladies and gentlemen. And this committee is afraid to bring him before us and put him on the record. Shame! And the question was raised. What does this have to do with it? It has everything to do with it.”

In addition to Giuliani, Raskin sought testimony from Lev Parnas, an associate of Giuliani’s who was indicted in 2019. Parnas subsequently cooperated with the Democratic impeachment inquiry, including providing a statement from a top official at Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy company, stating, “No one from Burisma had any contacts with VP Biden or people working for him.”

Several Democrats also raised Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law who worked in the White House, receiving $2 billion from Saudi Arabia through a company he formed after leaving the White House.

The Democrats charged that Kushner’s actions were far worse than Hunter Biden’s, because Kushner worked in government, while Biden’s son did not.

This story has been updated with additional details.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Melanie Zanona and Avery Lotz contributed to this report.

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