Impeachment Today Podcast: The Large Adult Son At The Center Of The Story

All of today's impeachment news, plus: How did Joe Biden's son end up the subject of a presidential dirt-digging operation that triggered the investigation?

It's Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, and it's been 31 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast will help you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

In today's episode: Nine Republican senators are holding back from endorsing a resolution condemning the House impeachment investigation, while Attorney General Bill Barr is now running a criminal investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation. And Katherine Miller, a politics editor with BuzzFeed News, is here to talk about one of the big questions of the impeachment saga: What is the deal with Hunter Biden, the large adult son at the heart of this mess?

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on on Apple Podcasts, the iHeartRadio app, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

Here's a full transcript of today's episode:

Hayes Brown: Good morning. I'm Hayes Brown, a reporter and editor here at BuzzFeed News. And today we're asking: What is the deal with Hunter Biden, the large adult son at the heart of this mess? We've got politics writer and editor Katherine Miller here to talk about it. But before we get to all that, let's review what we know so far and catch up on the big news from yesterday. Here are the facts as they stand.

In a July phone call, President Donald Trump asked the Ukrainian president for two favors: one, to help him get dirt on former vice president Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election. And two, to help push a conspiracy theory about the 2016 election. Now we know this because the White House released a transcript of the call, which, if you were to go and read it, says exactly that. Congress is now investigating whether Trump used military aid as leverage to get what he wanted.

Okay, now here's what went down yesterday. Thursday managed to feel like a breeze on an August day here in New York. A slight reprieve from the heat, but still muggy and terrible, and sometimes smells like garbage. In other words, things were relatively slow yesterday, but here's two quick things you should still know about.

First up, most Senate Republicans are backing a resolution condemning the way the House Impeachment inquiry has worked so far. The inquiry's secrecy over the last month has become congressional Republicans' biggest complaint about the process. Democrats are reportedly preparing for hearings open to the public once the initial witness interviews end, but it's still not clear when that will be. Forty-four of the Senate Republicans had signed onto the resolution as cosponsors as of Thursday afternoon. That leaves nine holdouts, most of whom are either retiring or up for reelection this year. That matters because if the House does vote to impeach Trump, the action will move to the Senate for a trial.

Twenty-two Republican votes would be needed to remove the president, which is...more than nine. Second, the New York Times reported that a review of how the Russian investigation started is now itself a criminal investigation. Attorney General Bill Barr launched the review earlier this year. He's traveled to several countries since then, to ask about events in 2016 that prompted allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. It's not clear when the shift from review to criminal case happened, but it's almost sure to be seen as a win by the president. It will also likely add to concerns that Barr is trying to validate conspiracies about the 2016 election. Which, as you may remember from two minutes ago, is a big part of the impeachment inquiry.

And now for folks who just want to know how the day ranked in the grand scheme of things, we have today's reading from our handy Nixometer, patent pending.

On our scale, a 0 is a normal day in a normal White House, and 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. This morning we're at a three and a half. I know I am as surprised as you are, but testimonies are on pause in DC as Congress mourns the death of a representative, Elijah Cummings. And the president managed to limit himself to a handful of tweets about witch hunts. Is this the recipe for a false sense of security? Probably, but hey, enjoy it while you can.

Next, it's all about Hunter Biden and how he got us into this mess, after the break.

Hayes Brown: Welcome back. Where were we? Every episode here on Impeachment Today, we take the time to dive into one aspect of the impeachment proceedings that really deserves our attention. A person, an event, an idea. And today we're doing that, and what's quickly become one of our favorite segments, This Fucking Guy. So it's not an understatement to say we might not be sitting here talking about impeachment, at all, if not for one Hunter Biden, the youngest son of former vice president Joe Biden.

Hunter is not really someone who you would normally expect to find in a history book. We barely remember who vice presidents were, let alone their children. Instead, he's here at the middle of the impeachment cyclone that we're living through. So I'm sitting here with BuzzFeed News politics writer and editor Katherine Miller to talk about this. Hello, Katherine.

Katherine Miller: Hello.

HB: So, Hunter — did he do anything wrong in his business dealings? Because that seems to be what we keep hearing bits and pieces about.

KM: Joe Biden would have said it was wrong in 1972. Well, let's examine that. I think one way to think through this a little bit is, when Joe Biden was elected in 1972 at age 29 to the United States Senate, he pretty famously said he was never going to own a stock or a bond. And he lived that. He really never became wealthy actually. And he never was one of those senators who leave office and then become a lobbyist for a bank.

HB: Right. So then what path did Hunter take that got to the point that he's in the middle of all of this?

KM: Well, he took a different path. He was a lobbyist and he did get involved in investment stuff, sort of around Washington.

HB: So what kind of lobbying and investment are we talking about here?

KM: A range of stuff. Everything from universities to a bank actually.

HB: Oh, so has Joe ever expressed any sort of concern, himself, about his son both being a lobbyist and dealing with investors overseas, considering his roles?

KM: No. Joe Biden and Hunter Biden have said that they don't really talk about Hunter Biden's business. It's only occasionally come up in a longer profile about Hunter Biden earlier this year. Joe Biden once told his son, "I hope you know what you're doing."

HB: That's like some real dad talk right there, "I hope you know what you're doing." This was back in 2014, I'm guessing, when he went off to Ukraine to get involved in business there.

KM: Yes. Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company in 2014.

HB: Yeah. So why though is this the gig that seems to have really like troubled a lot of people?

KM: Well, there's two parts of this. One is the fact that Rudy Giuliani has brought it up, and that Donald Trump was calling the Ukrainian president to ask about looking into it. We all know about that. The other part of it is, it is something that people took notice of at the time. In 2014, when Hunter joined this board, we wrote about it at BuzzFeed News.

HB: Right, that was Max Seddon on the World desk. I remember that piece now.

KM: Yes. It was notable because the United States was trying to advance certain causes in Ukraine and in Eastern Europe. One was that we wanted Ukraine to be independent of Russian energy.

HB: Right. Because at the time, 2014, Ukraine had just swapped leaders again, and Russia was about to invade Crimea and take over. So we were very interested in making sure that Ukraine stayed in the pro-Europe camp at the time.

KM: Yeah. It's just been a complicated 20 years basically, in Ukraine. And Joe Biden as vice president, was part of pushing United States' interest in that country and in Eastern Europe, and against Russian influence. While at the same time, his son was on the board of a company that was making money because of Ukrainian gas production.

HB: So that looks a little shady to a lot of people on the outside, but was it?

KM: Well, this is the thing, it's not illegal. It's certainly not illegal to go overseas and work for a company.

HB: Right. Except for there's this whole conspiracy theory, which I'm going to touch on very lightly, that Joe Biden got a prosecutor fired because the prosecutor now says that he was about to investigate Hunter at the time. And that's what Giuliani told Trump, and that's kind of how we got here.

KM: The thing with that is Joe Biden really wasn't alone in pushing for the prosecutor's removal. He's claimed a lot of credit for it.

HB: As Joe Biden does for things.

KM: But across the West, people had pushed for the removal of that prosecutor, because he was believed to be corrupt. That is kind of the Ukrainian story, there are a lot of corrupt prosecutors in it. The question is basically, should someone like Hunter Biden, the child of a US political figure, be able to make money from a company, probably because he is the son of the vice president, because his name is Hunter Biden.

HB: Right? We have Hunter Biden on this board, making money, apparently legitimate money, though, but it's still very much a political issue. It feels like this sort of thing that, if we were in a normal presidential race, the incumbent, Trump, would be very much able to use this in a normal way, in a political campaign, to whack Biden over the head, but instead we're in this situation.

KM: Right. None of this needed to happen. There is a normal way that people do this. People don't always love this about politics, the way that politicians attack each other over personal relationships and this sort of thing.

HB: So what would the normal way have been for this?

KM: Yeah, you run the ads 10 times a day for a year, until everybody knows about how Hunter Biden went to Ukraine and made a bunch of money, working for some company no one's ever heard of unless they live in Ukraine. This instead involved a sort of off-the-books side investigation into a Hunter Biden that also involved calling the President of Ukraine and all this other stuff. This might have come up in politics, about Hunter Biden. It might not have. These things always require somebody to bring it up. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who've run these very clearly anti-corruption campaigns, haven't really touched this issue and it's possible that they might never have. They don't really like, especially Bernie Sanders, they don't really like making personal attacks against candidates.

HB: Who wins out on this? Does the Biden campaign benefit at all from Hunter being talked about this much?

KM: Who knows? It's hard to predict. It's hard to predict how politics work. It could be that in some people's minds, this elevates Joe Biden and it makes him a clear opposition figure to Donald Trump, and people understand, "Oh, it's these two guys squaring off against each other, and Biden's the guy for me." Or because it's in the news so much and because it looks like impeachments really happening and it will be a major storyline of the next few months, that people hear a lot about these sort of-

HB: Weird and kind of gross connections.

KM: Unsavory business relationships that Hunter Biden had overseas, and they think, "I don't know if I want that." And as a result, Biden suffers for it.

HB: So let's jump ahead a year. It is almost the 2020 election. And where is Hunter Biden at this point, in your mind?

KM: If his father is the nominee, he's probably quietly advising his father, and not appearing in public very often.

HB: Fair. He's just like behind the scenes, maybe writing some memos. Okay, Katherine, after all that, we have a quick segment that we're calling the Kicker, where we ask the guests to find a tweet, a quote, a headline, a something, that they feel really sums up where we are in this moment. So what do you got?

KM: Okay. Have you heard this? "We were like the 300, you know, standing in the breach to try and stop the radical left from storming over our democracy."

HB: And who was that?

KM: Matt Gaetz, a congressman from Florida. Ringleader of the attempt to break into the secure room on Capitol Hill this week.

HB: And if those words don't make sense to you, listen to yesterday's episode where we talked briefly about it. Katherine, that is an actual perfect quote for where we are right now. Thank you so much for bringing that into our lives.

KM: Thank you for letting me.

Hayes Brown: So here's Testify, where we talk about who's testifying next and what the hell to expect. Philip Reeker is testifying tomorrow, a Saturday, which is weird, but the last two days were spent at the memorial service on the Hill. Reeker is the acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, the highest-ranking member of the State Department to speak to Congress so far.

Reeker will join a growing list of diplomats speaking to Congress, even after President Trump basically said, "Don't you dare." But officials are testifying anyway. He isn't expected to offer too much new information, but he could confirm things that his deputy and other State Department officials have said. Working on a Saturday though has somehow become a political issue. Rep. Jim Jordan, he's a Republican on the House Oversight Committee, had a message for Reeker. Jordan demanded that the deposition be rescheduled to a business day, to allow more GOP lawmakers to attend. Sounds like someone had weekend plans. Sorry, my guy.

Okay. Again, that's the best we've got for you for now. Tomorrow, we'll have more of whatever hellscape awaits says next. Listen and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, the iHeartRadio app, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. Plus as a favor to me, leave a rating or review and tell all your friends. Give a listen as we figure this all out together.

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