For the first time in U.S. history, the Justice Department has criminally charged the child of a sitting president. Federal prosecutors have indicted President Biden’s son Hunter Biden on felony charges of illegally possessing a handgun and making false statements in order to obtain a revolver in 2018. Special counsel David Weiss brought the charges after a Trump-appointed federal judge in July rejected a deal that would have seen Hunter Biden plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax counts in order to avoid jail time. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and fines of up to $750,000. This comes as Republican lawmakers have opened an impeachment inquiry of President Biden. “Maybe this will become the norm … to impeach the president if the president is from the opposite party,” says Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept, who adds that Republican infighting is threatening House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership and likely to lead to a shutdown of the federal government. “It does seem like they are headed for a shutdown of their own making.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Federal prosecutors have indicted President Biden’s son Hunter on felony charges—illegally possessing a handgun, making false statements in order to obtain a revolver in 2018. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and fines of up to $750,000. The Special Counsel now, David Weiss, brought the charges after a Trump-appointed federal judge in July rejected a deal that would have seen Hunter Biden plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax counts in order to escape more serious charges.
It’s the first time in U.S. history that the Justice Department has criminally charged the child of a sitting president. This comes as Republican lawmakers have opened an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. We’re joined now by Ryan Grim. He is the D.C. Bureau Chief for The Intercept. His Substack newsletter is titled Bad News. Upcoming book, The Squad: AOC and the Hope of a Political Revolution. Ryan, thanks for joining us. First, talk about this, well, it is an historic indictment, the first time the child of a president—he is hardly a child—but has been indicted.
RYAN GRIM: It is historic indictment but it’s also kind of a letdown. in a sense, for people who really want to see Hunter thrown up against a wall. Because it’s kind of a ticky-tack charge, and it’s kind of a charge that the right is going to want to see—the Second Amendment absolutists are going to want to see thrown out. Hunter’s lawyers actually made this argument, that “Look, you can go ahead and make this charge and you can probably get a conviction in front of a jury because the facts are”—look, everybody’s innocent until proven guilty, but it looks like he did fill out the form saying he wasn’t using drugs at the time that he was buying this weapon. And that was not true; he was, according to his own memoir or whatever, unless he wants to try to argue that in that discrete moment he wasn’t using drugs. And so Second Amendment absolutists are going to say, “Look, there is no requirement in the Constitution that says you have to be sober, or that you can put any conditions or restrictions whatsoever on gun ownership. Now, I would argue that that kind of cuts against the whole idea of a well-regulated militia, but we’re 200 years past that at this point. So you could easily see an appeals court toss out this conviction, which would then lead to, paradoxically or ironically, an expansion of gun rights at the hands of Hunter Biden, ironically.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s fascinating—you didn’t see Republicans, while they’re disappointed that this didn’t go deeper—and it’s very interesting, the head of the Oversight Committee, Comer, who wasn’t able to come up with anything on President Biden, yet McCarthy has just announced, the House Speaker, that they are starting this impeachment inquiry against him, said this is probably the one charge that President Biden has nothing to do with.
RYAN GRIM: That’s true. There’s no reason to think that the Big Guy, as the right calls him based on that email, that famous or infamous email, would have had anything to do with this whatsoever. It is the most cordoned-off crime that he would have committed. Everything else, from the Republican perspective, has at least some kind of tangential connection potentially to President Biden, whether it is the tax charges or the foreign influence, peddling. This is just a messed-up guy lying on paperwork to buy a gun.
AMY GOODMAN: That he wasn’t taking drugs, when in fact he said in his book that he was taking drugs, so this actually is evidence from his own book. But as Abbe Lowell points out and as the Republicans would underscore in any other case, this is a violation, they are saying, of the Second Amendment. Talk about the context in which this is happening and the opening of this impeachment inquiry into President Biden. Do you feel that it has something to do with, well, as President Trump runs again for president, then he can say, when people say “the twice-indicted President Trump”— “We’ve all been indicted.” Rather, “We’ve all been impeached.”
RYAN GRIM: And maybe this will become the norm, that if the House of Representatives is controlled by the opposite party, there will be pressure from that party’s base to indict the president, if the president—not to indict, to impeach—the president if the president is from the opposite party. Which then kind of strips it of a lot of its power. But yes.
So what basically happened is that it seems like Kevin McCarthy got word that Matt Gaetz was going to give an extended speech, his own indictment so to speak, of Kevin McCarthy when the House came back this week from its August recess, and to say he was going to, if McCarthy did not live up to the bargain that was struck back in January, make a motion to vacate the chair, basically kick McCarthy out of his speakership. McCarthy kind of scrambled quickly to make this announcement that he was going to open an impeachment inquiry but not send that to the House floor for a vote, which means that whatever moderate Republicans are left don’t have to walk the plank on an unpopular vote back in their kind of Biden-supporting districts.
Steve Bannon on his podcast said that it looked like McCarthy had bayonets in his back and in fact he did. And what he means is that people like Gaetz and Bannon kind of forced McCarthy into this position. And so the White House is saying, “If you don’t put this on the floor for a vote, what we can do is refer to the legal counsel memo written by President Trump’s attorneys that say that if the House doesn’t vote on an impeachment inquiry, it is not an impeachment inquiry. Kevin McCarthy getting up in front of a bank of microphones and declaring it does not make it so. So you have therefore not actually opened up the powers of impeachment yet. If you want to do it, you have to put people on record saying that they want to move forward on this.”
AMY GOODMAN: Is the reason he’s hesitating to do it is he’s afraid that even among the Republicans he’s not going to have the votes he needs?
RYAN GRIM: Right. Because he only has a cushion of around four votes, and so you—
AMY GOODMAN: One of them is George Santos, if that’s his name.
RYAN GRIM: That’s right. Although Santos will do whatever McCarthy asks him to do, ironically. Usually somebody from that district would be the kind that would be less willing to make a move against Biden if Biden was popular in that district. But because Santos has the problems that he has, he is just doing whatever McCarthy says he does, because his job depends on McCarthy.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happened yesterday, the meeting in the Republican caucus with the f-bombs flying, and the House Speaker McCarthy saying, “You can make an effing move for a motion,” as they want to unseat him, this leading to possibly a government shutdown by the end of the month?
RYAN GRIM: It is an incredible time for this to be happening, because like you said, if they don’t produce a continuing resolution or some type of spending bill by September 30th, the House shuts down. The House has been saying they don’t want to do a continuing resolution, they want to do their own appropriation bills the way that the House is designed to work. You know, pass all 12, they’ll go through the House, go through the Senate, signed by Biden. Normal functional government. In the face of that, they have two weeks to pull all that off. Yet they’re spending all of their time shouting at each other and saying they’re going to impeach Biden and also throw McCarthy out of the speakership.
So they’re not going to pass their appropriations bills.
They are also saying, “If you try to pass a CR, a continuing resolution that just keeps the government open, we’re going to throw McCarthy out of the speakership.” So the only two paths to keep the government open are those two paths. Their dysfunction is ruling out the former and the Freedom Caucus is ruling out the latter. So it does seem like they are headed for a shutdown of their own making. Like they won’t even be able to spin it in any serious way that it was Democrats’ fault.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Grim, we want to thank you for being with us, D.C., Bureau Chief for The Intercept. That does it for our show. Happy birthday to Sam Alcoff. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.
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