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House Republicans tee up Biden payback plan for Trump

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House Republicans’ push to impeach Joe Biden this year is going nowhere. So they’ve set their sights on another goal: Helping Donald Trump land blows on Biden if he wins back the White House.

The impeachment process is stalled amid intraparty skepticism, and Republicans’ primary backup plan — criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, including for Hunter Biden and potentially even Joe Biden — is also unlikely to go anywhere with the latter in office.

Against that backdrop, Republicans are outlining a growing wish list they’re hoping to see Trump’s administration deliver on if he is back in power next year, no matter which party controls Congress. Those goals include helping GOP lawmakers get the audio of Joe Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur; reshaping the DOJ and FBI in a more conservative mold; and pursuing further investigations that stem from Republicans’ sprawling impeachment inquiry, even with Joe Biden out of office.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) said he doesn’t expect any action from the DOJ on the party’s Biden-related criminal referrals this year. But he’s looking forward to Trump picking up the matter from the White House.

“Next year. It’s not going to happen under this administration,” Norman said. He succinctly summed up the prospects of federal prosecutions stemming from GOP criminal referrals: “Under Trump? Yeah. But not under this administration.”

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) pointed to the Biden White House’s assertion of executive privilege to prevent the release of the audio from the president’s interview with Hur, which has prompted House Republicans to advance contempt findings against Attorney General Merrick Garland, who did hand over the transcript.

“Under a Trump presidency,” Armstrong predicted, “that gets litigated.”

Republican lawmakers have plenty of evidence to suggest that, even with Joe Biden out of office, Trump would still want the DOJ focused on payback against his defeated foe or his current prosecutors — particularly following his conviction last week on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The former president has repeatedly promised just that in social media posts, publicly warning last year that Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into him would result in “repercussions far greater than anything that Biden or his Thugs could understand” before adding: “This is a Pandora’s Box, that works two ways, and it should be closed and tightly sealed RIGHT NOW.”

Some top GOP lawmakers are even homing in on the specific Biden investigative findings they plan to highlight for a potential Trump presidency, even as some Republican colleagues acknowledge they remain short of any proof of criminal wrongdoing by Joe Biden. (Hunter Biden, for his part, is in court this week for a trial on federal gun charges and is set for a second tax-related trial later this year.) A recent Congressional Research Service report acknowledged it is unlikely Garland faces charges this year, but said that it’s possible the next administration “could break from established executive branch policy and choose to take up the prosecution within” a five-year window.

House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.), who wrote in a fundraising email earlier this year that Republicans would give “new leadership at the DOJ … everything they need” for prosecutions, doubled down on that plan in an interview by promising to include material from a recent Hunter Biden-related document dump by the Ways and Means Committee, which has been receiving information from IRS whistleblowers.

The criminal referrals that Republicans are planning to send DOJ “don’t expire” this year, Comer said, adding that if the Biden DOJ doesn’t “try to uphold the law … maybe the next one will.”

Republican investigators’ heightened focus on a potential Trump win comes as a growing number of their colleagues acknowledge they don’t have the votes to impeach Biden this year. They are preparing to recommend Garland be held in contempt as soon as next week after the DOJ turned over the Hur-Biden transcript but not the audio, but don’t yet have GOP support locked down for even that step.

Even if they manage to land a political blow on Garland, who is all but guaranteed to not face criminal charges, Republicans are in the dark about when, or how, the larger Biden investigation wraps.

“It’s this glacier that we’re on. People like to stop and make ice cubes sometimes, but it still keeps moving along kind of slow,” Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said about the state of the inquiry.

Despite that largely frozen impeachment, Republicans are quietly conducting a multi-pronged probe of Biden and his family behind the scenes. Comer recently disclosed that he had issued a new subpoena for bank records and said, in an interview, he is sorting through a sweep of documents furnished by former Hunter Biden business partner Devon Archer, all of which will shape a forthcoming report on the inquiry.

Comer has also insisted that impeachment is still on the table. And in the Judiciary Committee, two Republicans said they still expected the panel to hold hearings on articles of impeachment once the Oversight panel has released its findings. Jordan, asked about that, said “everything is on the table.”

He also said investigators would publicly release a “packet of materials” about their findings from the Biden administration —which could serve as fodder for a future Trump administration. The Judiciary panel is still locked in a court battle for the closed-door testimony of two DOJ tax attorneys who are involved in the years-long Hunter Biden federal investigation.

But underscoring the political pitfalls Republicans face, Comer is facing early pushback from the White House on ethics legislation he released with Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) that would require presidents release their tax returns — something Trump refused to do — and put more financial disclosure rules in place for family members.

That bipartisan bill has an unclear path forward after getting early resistance from some corners of the House Democratic caucus and skepticism from the White House.

“It applies to Trump in the same manner,” Comer said of the bill. “I think it would be hard to explain to the American people why you wouldn’t support it.”

As Comer separately touts his future criminal referrals as possible bread crumbs for a Trump return to office, he’s getting some backup from the right flank of the conference that has pushed quixotically for impeachment this year.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), for one, has said the GOP should put lawmakers on the record even if a Joe Biden impeachment vote fails. He separately expressed hope that, “while we probably don’t have the votes for impeachment,” any criminal referrals that spawn from the inquiry “would still be available for a new [attorney general].”

Trump allies off Capitol Hill have particularly leaned on Jordan to use his congressional perch to investigate the Trump investigators, arguing that his work could be used as the basis for renewed investigations in 2025. And Jordan took new steps on that front following Trump’s New York felony convictions, pushing for testimony from top prosecutors.

But when it comes to the Biden impeachment inquiry, House Republicans continue to face a steady stream of criticism from Fox News and other conservative media outlets about their failure to deliver on a big promise to the party base. Even some members of the House’s right flank have publicly kvetched that they believe it should have moved faster and been more aggressive.

Jordan said in a brief interview that he was “sure” a Trump administration would be more willing to re-investigate some of the GOP’s biggest sore spots or hand over information Republicans have sought. Providing information that a previous president asserted executive privilege over while in office would be a historic step — but one Democrats acknowledge is a possibility.

House Republicans have also hinted they would sue the Biden administration over the Hur-Biden audio this year, but the resulting court fight could drag on for months.

Jordan also predicted that Trump would remake the DOJ, which Republicans have increasingly soured on since Trump first rode to power in 2016. The House GOP’s right flank wanted to overhaul the DOJ and the FBI more quickly this Congress, but those proposals have stalled thanks to opposition from the Democrat-controlled Senate and White House — and resistance from some Republican colleagues about compromising the agencies’ independence.

Republicans are planning to try to use the upcoming government funding debate to try to target Smith’s probe, as well as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s, but face the same hurdles.

“I think a Trump administration means a change in these agencies. … That’s a big part of it,” Jordan said.