“There’s no plans to subpoena Joe Biden. There are plans to subpoena Hunter Biden,” GOP Rep. Jim Comer told CNN in a sit-down interview.
The acknowledgment by Comer, the likely next chairman of the House Oversight Committee, that subpoenaing a sitting president unleashes a host of thorny executive privilege issues underscores the complicated task ahead for Republicans as they claim they will try to connect Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings to his father.
It also comes after the Trump White House stonewalled congressional requests for official and private matters, citing privilege and other claims that the Biden White House is likely to point to in the face of GOP requests.
Asked why he plans to subpoena Hunter Biden and not his father, Comer told CNN that trying to compel testimony from a sitting president is “complicated,” while saying Republicans are planning a different approach after securing the majority in the House.
“The Democrats sent out subpoenas like junk mail, and that’s why it’s hard to get people to come in,” Comer said.
But at the same time, Comer reiterated that his committee’s probe is focused on the sitting president, not his son.
“This needs to be called the Biden investigation and not the Hunter Biden investigation,” he said, echoing comments he made during a press conference earlier Thursday.
While in the White House, then-President Donald Trump and his administration raised executive privilege claims and other legal protections they said shielded him as president, fighting to thwart Democratic subpoenas for his tax returns, accounting records, and documents and testimony from witnesses across numerous committees and the House’s first impeachment inquiry.
The House select committee investigating January 6, 2021, has continued the congressional pursuit of the Trump administration, successfully obtaining testimony from a host of Trump’s aides but not from the former president himself. The committee issued an eleventh-hour subpoena last month for Trump to testify and turn over documents but he rejected that possibility by filing a lawsuit that will likely render the congressional order moot.
Now, as Trump’s GOP allies seek to turn the tables on a Democratic president – one who defeated their party’s current leading candidate in the 2020 election – they are faced with the same stark challenges as their colleagues across the aisle during the last administration.
The likelihood of Congress being able to enforce a subpoena issued to a sitting president, even if only related to activities from before they assumed that office, is low and there is little precedent in American history, experts say.
“Across Democratic and Republican administrations, the Justice Department has long maintained that a sitting president cannot be compelled to appear before Congress due largely to the imposition on the work of the presidency and comity between the branches,” according to Ryan Goodman, former special counsel for the Department of Defense and co-editor-in-chief at Just Security.
“That position does not turn on whether the actions under consideration occurred before or during a president’s time in office. Executive branch lawyers will likely fight hard to maintain that line, and it could take years to litigate,” he told CNN.
The White House said Thursday the GOP investigations are politically motivated and a waste of time.
“Instead of working with President Biden to address issues important to the American people, like lower costs, congressional Republicans’ top priority is to go after President Biden with politically motivated attacks chock full of long-debunked conspiracy theories” spokesman for the White House Counsel’s office Ian Sams said in a statement to CNN.
“President Biden is not going to let these political attacks distract him from focusing on Americans’ priorities, and we hope congressional Republicans will join us in tackling them instead of wasting time and resources on political revenge,” Sams added.
Private attorneys representing Biden family members did not respond to requests for comment.