What did Hunter Biden's ex-business partner tell lawmakers?
Devon Archer's testimony was cited in the GOP's impeachment inquiry hearing.
During the first hearing Thursday of the GOP impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, House Republicans repeatedly insisted that what Hunter Biden's former business partner, Devon Archer, recently told lawmakers behind closed doors went to the heart of why the inquiry was warranted.
On Thursday, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called Archer's testimony "the most telling evidence" of the president's potential involvement in an "influence-peddling scheme."
But a review of Archer's testimony, detailed in a publicly-released transcript, shows that Jordan left out key parts of Archer's testimony and potentially mischaracterized other parts of it that undermine some key elements of Republicans' impeachment inquiry.
In 2016, when Biden was vice president, he threatened to withhold aid from Ukraine if their leaders did not remove the country's chief prosecutor, Victor Shokin, who was widely perceived by Western governments and institutions as corrupt. Securing Shokin's ouster was then the U.S. State Department's official policy stance, and the European Union's envoy to Ukraine supported it.
At the time, Shokin's office had launched an investigation into the Ukrainian oil firm Burisma, which had hired both Hunter Biden and Archer to its board.
Shokin was ultimately fired, and as Jordan said on Thursday, Joe Biden "leveraged $1 billion of American tax money" to make that happen -- a move Biden later chronicled in public as evidence of his anti-corruption efforts as vice president.
"But the most telling evidence," Jordan said Thursday, "is what [Hunter Biden's] business partner said."
Jordan was referring to an exchange during Archer's testimony in June, when Archer told lawmakers about a request that Hunter Biden received from Burisma's top executive, Mykola Zlochevsky, during a dinner years earlier.
As Jordan recounted, "here's the question" Archer was asked during his testimony: "The request was help from the United States government to deal with the pressure they were under from their prosecutor."
"You know what Mr. Archer's response was?" Jordan asked. "''That's correct.' Next question: 'What did Hunter Biden do after he was given that request?' He called his dad."
"That's what we're investigating," Jordan insisted.
But in his earlier testimony, Archer said Shokin specifically wasn't even "on my radar" at the time, and the "pressure" that Burisma's executive wanted relief from was "Ukrainian government investigations" more generally and the freezing of assets in the United Kingdom. "You know, basically the request is like, 'can D.C. help?' But ... it wasn't like -- there weren't specific, you know, 'can the big guy help?'"
Archer told lawmakers that Shokin's dismissal actually exposed Burisma to more legal scrutiny, not less. Archer claimed that Shokin was "under the control" of Zlochevsky, and his removal was seen as "not good" for the firm – despite Jordan's premise.
"The narrative that was spun to me, quite frankly … Shokin being fired was not good, because he was, like, under control as relates to Mykola," Archer testified.
Archer also told lawmakers that while he heard -- second-hand -- Hunter called someone after Zlochevsky asked him at dinner to help relieve the "pressure," Archer didn't know if it was Joe Biden whom Hunter Biden called. Though Archer initially told lawmakers he believed Hunter Biden called his father, Archer then told lawmakers he didn't know who actually received the call. "I do not know one way or the other whether it was to [Joe Biden]," Archer said of the call.
At the start of the hearing, the Republican leading the impeachment inquiry, Rep. James Comer, R-Tenn., noted that one of Hunter Biden's Chinese business associates named Jonathan Li had sent a $250,000 "personal investment" to Hunter Biden in August 2019 -- "months after Joe Biden announced his run for the presidency," as Comer put it.
According to Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee leading the inquiry, that payment was "a substantial investment in the Bidens," and, "During Archer's interview … he explained how Vice President Biden developed a relationship with Jonathan Li. Vice President Biden had coffee with Jonathan Li in Beijing. He talked with him on the phone, and even wrote a college recommendation letter for Mr. Li's children."
But in his testimony two months ago, Archer described what was hardly a close relationship between Joe Biden and Li. He testified that Joe Biden and Li "ended up having coffee" one time in Beijing, and that he wasn't even sure if Joe Biden knew who Li was when Hunter Biden put them on the phone together another time -- which may have been after the two had already met in Beijing, Archer said.
On the phone, they talked about "how great Beijing is -- or Chengdu, whichever city we were in … [It was] an expression of hellos, I guess," Archer testified. "There was not a specific time that I witnessed [them discuss] a specific business deal or business dealings or, you know, specifics about any kind of financial stuff," Archer added.
Both the coffee meeting and the phone call were just exchange of pleasantries, Archer told lawmakers.
Archer testified that he remembers Hunter Biden "got" his father to write a college recommendation letter for Li's daughter, but Archer also said that Joe Biden was never asked to take any action on behalf of Li's business and that the letter "didn't work" -- "she didn't get in," he said.
Toward the end of his testimony, Archer was asked if it was fair to summarize his entire testimony as suggesting "it's not that Hunter Biden was influencing U.S. policy, it's that Hunter Biden was falsely giving the Burisma executives the impression that he had any influence over U.S. policy."
Archer responded, "I think that's fair."