Republicans leading an impeachment inquiry of US President Joe Biden alleged that he had lied about family members' business dealings and had not walled them off from his official duties, as Democrats said there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
In its first hour, the impeachment hearing by the Republican-led House of Representatives Oversight Committee on Thursday did not reveal new information about Biden's financial ties to his troubled son Hunter Biden, 53, who pursued a range of international business ventures while struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.
But Republicans leading the probe said that Hunter Biden and other family members were selling access.
"What were the Bidens selling to make all this money? Joe Biden himself," House Oversight Committee chair James Comer said.
The hearing came just three days before a looming government shutdown as Congress struggles to pass legislation to fund federal agencies due to a fight over funding and immigration.
Republicans have yet to uncover evidence of wrongdoing by Biden after months of initial investigations that have produced thousands of pages of financial records.
"If Republicans had a smoking gun or even a dripping water pistol they would be presenting it today. But they've got nothing," said Jamie Raskin, the panel's top Democrat.
George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley and forensic accountant Bruce Dubinsky said the panel had enough evidence to open an impeachment inquiry but did not have enough evidence to justify impeachment charges.
Another law professor, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina, said he had not heard credible evidence to justify the probe and warned the panel that it was being driven by partisan concerns.
A fourth witness, former Justice Department official Eileen O'Connor, said she thought the department had soft-pedaled a criminal investigation of Hunter Biden, who now faces gun charges.
Republicans allege Biden and his family personally profited from policies he pursued as vice president during former president Barack Obama's administration between 2009 and 2017. Separately, they also allege the Justice Department interfered with a tax investigation of Hunter Biden.
'Consequences ... will be very damaging'
The White House says the inquiry is unfounded and driven by politics ahead of the 2024 presidential election when Biden will likely face a rematch with Republican Donald Trump, who faces four upcoming criminal trials.
It is unclear if House Republicans, who have a narrow 221-212 majority, would have the votes at the end of the inquiry to support actual impeachment. But even if that vote succeeded, it is highly unlikely that the Senate, where Democrats hold a 51-49 majority, would vote to remove Biden from office.
At the center of the investigation are allegations that Biden, as vice president, pressured Ukraine to fire a top prosecutor to shield Burisma, a company for which Hunter Biden was on the board of directors.
Numerous US and foreign officials have said Biden was carrying out official policy to fight corruption in Ukraine.
Democrats unsuccessfully pressed the panel to subpoena former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who had sought to uncover evidence of Biden wrongdoing in Ukraine, as well as Lev Parnas, a former associate who has denounced Giuliani's effort.
House Republicans have said they plan to seek personal and business bank records for Hunter Biden and James Biden, the president's brother.
Comer cited payment records from Chinese nationals to Hunter in 2019, listing Joe Biden's home address in Delaware as the beneficiary address. Republicans have not provided evidence that the elder Biden received the money.
The hearing comes as House Republicans are locked in a showdown with Biden and his fellow Democrats over government funding for the fiscal year that starts October 1. Wide swaths of the government will shut down if they do not reach agreement.
"The consequences for the American people will be very damaging," the White House said at the hearing's outset. "Nothing can distract from that."
Raskin said Republicans had been pressured to impeach Biden by former President Trump. Trump was impeached twice during his four-year presidency and faces four criminal indictments — the first time for allegedly pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden ahead of the 2020 election. Trump was acquitted by the Senate both times.