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Biden Is Staffing Up for GOP Probes Even While Downplaying Risks

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 12/2/2022 Jordan Fabian and Erik Wasson

(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden faces an ugly new reality next year as Republicans threaten a torrent of investigations into his administration and family that could change his presidency and test his resolve.

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The White House is bracing for the onslaught by ramping up the team that will handle the probes, including bringing on a key staffer from a powerful congressional committee: Russell Anello, the current House Oversight Committee staff director, who has experience dealing with GOP lawmakers eager to investigate Biden. 

Republicans, who will control the House and be armed with subpoena powers, have floated investigations into the administration’s handling of the southwest border, the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of Covid-19 and the business dealings of the president’s son, Hunter.

Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Donald Trump loyalist, has already introduced articles of impeachment against Biden, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland will be targets of probes.

How Biden weathers the storm may determine his political standing heading into the 2024 election, in which he intends to run, as well as his ability to work with the divided Congress.

The White House argues any GOP inquiries or impeachment efforts will backfire on Republicans, who will hold only a razor-thin House majority. But that requires a disciplined response from Biden and his team, which has prepared for months to tackle the investigations.

Anello, who is expected to join the White House counsel’s office to help respond to congressional inquiries, will be a crucial part of that effort. He served as chief counsel on the House committee on the coronavirus pandemic and worked in the White House counsel’s office under President Barack Obama, who also faced Republican-led investigations. 

“We have been preparing for these efforts for months and are excited to have someone with such deep experience in congressional oversight join the team,” said Ian Sams, a spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office.

More people are expected to join the White House team handling investigations, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Defense Ramps Up

The president’s advisers are counting on federal agency-staff, congressional Democrats and a revived outside group to prepare for and push back against GOP-led probes.

“No one can ever be fully prepared for what’s coming but they won’t be caught flat footed,” Virginia Representative Gerry Connolly, who is vying to become the oversight panel’s top Democrat next year, said in an interview. 

Biden’s aides created an internal team months ago to respond to the investigations, so the rest of the White House staff could focus on policy and governing. Richard Sauber, a longtime defense lawyer who was the top attorney at the Department of Veterans Affairs, joined the White House in the summer as a special counsel on oversight. Sams, who worked on Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign, is leading their communications response. 

The White House reached out to federal agencies in the summer, when it became apparent Republicans had a good chance of winning congressional majorities, to strengthen processes to respond to oversight requests and hire senior staff to handle possible investigations. White House lawyers have met with senior advisers to Cabinet officials that Republicans have threatened to impeach to help with preparing their defense, according to a person familiar with the matter.

A small team of communications, legal and legislative staff have monitored letters sent to White House and agency officials in an effort to outline Republicans’ investigative plans. 

Those actions signal the White House is prepared to cooperate with some, if not all, of the probes. But Biden’s advisers have signaled they will push back aggressively on politically motivated efforts to damage the president.

“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,” Sams said in a statement.

A group of Democratic strategists also recently relaunched the Congressional Integrity Project with millions in backing to provide an investigatory and rapid response campaign against GOP lawmakers leading the probes.

“We’re not going to wish any of this away, we’re going to be very aggressive,” said Brad Woodhouse, a veteran Democratic operative in the group. “We’re going to investigate the investigators.”

Read More: House GOP Primed to Hit Biden With Avalanche of Investigations

Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, expected to chair the Judiciary panel, has signaled to the FBI and Justice Department that he will probe “politicized” actions against conservatives. Kentucky Representative James Comer, expected to lead the Oversight Committee, said last month that Hunter Biden’s business dealings “have compromised President Biden.”

Over the past two days, the Congressional Integrity Project has issued statements attacking Comer and Jordan as beholden to Trump. 

“The Biden Administration was able to operate without any oversight from Democrats in Congress for the past two years, and now that they will have to answer for their failed policies, they are attacking those who are seeking transparency for the American people,” said Comer in a statement.

Russell Dye, a spokesperson for Jordan and House Judiciary Republicans, said, “The American people deserve transparency and accountability. Republicans won’t be deterred by left wing special interest groups funded by secret donors trying to score political points.”

Son in Spotlight

Biden, who is fiercely protective of his family, has faced accusations about Hunter Biden before -- and repeatedly said his son did no wrong. But Biden’s allies acknowledge it’s a different matter when those allegations come from lawmakers armed with committee gavels and subpoena powers.

Biden as president has mostly given calm, direct answers when asked about Hunter Biden’s conduct. But before entering office, he showed frustration on occasion.

In December 2020, Biden labeled Fox News reporter Peter Doocy a “one-horse pony” when asked about the federal investigation into his son. A year earlier, he mockingly called Doocy “classy” when he asked about Hunter Biden’s paternity test in a suit.

Biden said during a post-midterm press conference he plans to focus on governing.

“I think the American people will look at all of that for what it is. It’s just almost comedy,” Biden said on Nov. 9. “I can’t control what they’re going to do.”

Republican lawmakers intend to focus more squarely on investigations such as Mayorkas, Garland and the Afghanistan withdrawal and while Hunter Biden’s dealings will be investigated, they may not take center stage, in part because some Republicans think it could backfire, people familiar with the preparations said.

Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin, also seeking to become the top Oversight Democrat, predicted any investigation into Hunter Biden wouldn’t gain traction. 

“Hunter doesn’t work at the White House,” he said. 

--With assistance from Josh Wingrove.

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