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The GOP impeachment fight, distilled (by ‘Fox & Friends’)

House Republicans are expected to vote this week to formalize the impeachment inquiry into President Biden that then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced in September. On Monday’s episode of Fox News’s flagship morning program, “Fox & Friends,” the hosts presented the broad-strokes case for such a probe.

Perhaps unintentionally, they did something else: They exposed the gaps in that case for any viewer paying close enough attention.

The show now has four regular hosts, with Lawrence Jones having joined Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade in September. During the 10 minutes that the four spent discussing the Biden impeachment inquiry on Monday morning, each offered a different perspective on the issue.

Jones was the moralist, outraged at the actions of President Biden’s son Hunter. Kilmeade was the loyalist, regurgitating exaggerations or falsehoods that have been hyped by the Republicans driving the impeachment push. Earhardt was the intuitionist, having a sense that Biden did something bad and perfectly fine with that. And then there was Doocy, again playing the role of “Fox & Friends” realist — the guy closest to the actual truth.

The segment began with a consideration of Hunter Biden’s recent indictment for allegedly having failed to pay taxes on his income. They showed a clip of Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) suggesting that the indictment was warranted. That prompted Kilmeade to observe that other Democrats had similarly expressed willingness for Hunter Biden to be held to account.

“It’s Hunter that’s bad. Yeah, he did bad things, bad addiction,” Kilmeade said, mirroring those Democrats’ verbiage. “No one’s making excuses. … But they stop there. They just stop on a dime. And they say this has nothing to do with Joe.”

Sure, because it doesn’t. Kilmeade went on to argue that it did, looping in various points at which Joe Biden is alleged or understood to have had contact with Hunter Biden’s business partners — contact that witnesses who testified before House committees have said was not an indication of Joe Biden’s involvement in his son’s business deals. But even had they been, it has nothing to do with whether his son paid taxes on his income.

Kilmeade ultimately endorsed an inquiry but not an impeachment, which is an interesting line to draw if you think that the president acted inappropriately. Doocy noted that any such vote might be tricky.

“The problem with going through with an impeachment vote,” he said, is that “there are close to 20 Republicans who are in the House of Representatives who are in districts that Joe Biden won. So their jobs are actually in peril” should they go out on a limb on impeachment.

“There are 20 where Joe Biden won?” Earhardt interjected, prompting Doocy to be more specific: 18 in total. “Wow,” Earhardt replied.

Doocy then noted that the Justice Department had done what House Republicans hadn’t: put together a compelling case against their target. Kilmeade said Republican legislators were wary of the evidence at hand against Joe Biden.

Jones then brought up the gun charges that Hunter Biden was already facing, explaining in sordid terms the trouble that Hunter Biden was going through at the point when he bought a handgun. Doocy picked out an aside from Jones: that this occurred after Biden was out of office.

“This was being handled by the Donald Trump Department of Justice,” he noted. “And so the question is, why didn’t [then-Attorney General] Bill Barr and company, why didn’t they follow through on that?”

Then he offered a more direct assessment of the case against the president.

“It looks like they’ve got the goods on Hunter Biden, but the Republicans have not made the case yet where Joe Biden profited from it,” Doocy said. “Quid pro quo and stuff like that.”

“But they get a lot,” Kilmeade interjected.

“They do have a lot,” Earhardt added.

“They have a lot of stuff. They got a lot of numbers,” Doocy replied. “They haven’t explained how it implicates Joe.”

This is exactly right! The House Republican investigations have generated a lot of content, much of which has been presented as inculpatory by people such as House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.). But they have not implicated Joe Biden in any significant way.

Doocy pointed to September polling from CNN in which many Americans indicated that they thought Joe Biden had done something illegal — polling conducted before McCarthy’s announcement about an impeachment inquiry.

“It looks so fishy,” Earhardt said. “This is a guy who was a drug addict. We’ve seen all the pictures. We’ve seen the pictures of him, like, without teeth because of the drugs. This is a guy that did not need to be on the Burisma board,” referring to Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian energy company. She noted that Hunter Biden’s former business partner Devon Archer had testified that Joe Biden was put on speakerphone during meetings after calling his son numerous times over the years. She did not note that Archer also flatly denied that Joe Biden had been involved in his son’s business activity.

“It’s just it seems like something’s very fishy,” she added. This, of course, is the entire focus of the Republican-Fox News effort: use what little information they have to bolster the idea that something fishy occurred — in hopes that they will get better information down the line.

Kilmeade then teed up a segment from the Fox show “Sunday Morning Futures,” in which host Maria Bartiromo — who’s done more than anyone in the media to amplify the idea of fishiness — interviewed Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.). (Donalds is the legislator who last week scoffed at the idea that Joe Biden was paid back money for helping his son buy a car, despite the obvious evidence that this is what happened.) In the clip, Donalds offered two reasons he felt Joe Biden should be impeached, just after he explained his expectation that they would be able to prove that Biden deserved to be impeached.

Jones was up again. He again disparaged Hunter Biden’s actions during the period when the president’s son was addicted to drugs — and then suggested that the 2020 election was undermined by a lack of awareness about Hunter’s actions.

“When you have 70 percent of the people, when you look at the polling, said if they would have known about the laptop before the prior election,” Jones claimed, “it would have altered their opinion, their viewpoint of how they voted—”

Earhardt cut him off. But Jones’s claim is nonsense. The poll, such as it was, was from a right-wing advocacy organization that didn’t ask about the material that was reported by the New York Post in October 2020. It is not credible as a predictor of how people might have changed their votes — even when you look at the actual figure of 17 percent of people in swing states who said that they might have changed their vote. (Similar percentages said the same thing about other issues.)

Earhardt wanted to come back to those 18 Republican lawmakers in Biden-won districts.

“Don’t you think the voters are smart enough in those districts to say, you know what, we did vote for Biden, but this looks really bad?” she asked.

“Also if they had the stuff,” Doocy replied. “I mean, the Republicans at this point don’t have — they’ve got a lot of ledgers and spreadsheets, but they have not connected the dots. They’ve connected the dots, the Department of Justice did, on Hunter, but they have not shown Joe Biden did anything illegal.”

Again: correct!

“The problem, Steve,” Jones replied a bit later, “is that you’re talking about a criminal prosecution. And impeachment is not a criminal prosecution. It’s a political procedure. So you don’t have to find a conviction of a crime to get impeachment. … The bottom line is it was unethical what happened. And that is enough for impeachment.”

It is also correct that impeachment is a political procedure that does not require evidentiary proof. All that’s needed is for a majority of the House to believe that someone should be impeached and, by extension, for those legislators to either believe that voters will agree with their assessment or for them not to care whether voters will do so. Should Joe Biden’s actions be considered unethical, that is, in fact, enough — just as it would be enough, should a majority of the House decide it is, for Joe Biden’s last name to rhyme with “hidin’.”

Kilmeade wasn’t willing to let Doocy’s accurate dismissal of the evidence stand, though.

“You don’t have the exact deposits” to Joe Biden, he said, “but you have these shell companies where money is moving through. If they could start getting more transparency from the people and the requests answered from [the National Archives] on down, they’ll be able to put those pieces together.”

This is entirely the heart of the issue. The “shell companies” thing and the amount taken in by Hunter Biden (which Kilmeade went on to mention) were explained and contextualized even before the impeachment probe began. (In short, most of the companies had obvious legitimate purposes and Hunter Biden took in far less than Republicans like to claim.) But the idea that evidence necessarily exists to prove the worst-case scenario right is the engine of all of this — and has been since even before Republicans took control of the House in January. Kilmeade and many others assume this happened and treat finding proof that it did as inevitable, even as such proof remains elusive.

You see how all of this fits together. Republicans need only political will to advance an impeachment, and Kilmeade, Jones and Earhardt are happy to offer it. Doocy’s objections, his accurate insistence that the arguments being made lack grounding, are treated as temporary, despite their enduring much more robustly than any of the claims about Joe Biden.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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