• Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

Second IRS whistleblower goes public at House Oversight hearing about Hunter Biden probe

Second IRS whistleblower goes public at House Oversight hearing about Hunter Biden probe




CNN
 — 

The House Oversight Committee is hearing from two IRS whistleblowers whose testimony alleging that the Hunter Biden criminal probe was mishandled has ignited a firestorm among House Republicans.

One of the two whistleblowers is speaking for the first time publicly: Joseph Ziegler, a 13-year IRS Special Agent with the Criminal Investigation Division.

In his statements to the Oversight committee, Ziegler outlined what he described as examples of prosecutors not following the normal investigative process, and echoed fellow whistleblower Gary Shapley’s claims that IRS investigators recommended charging Hunter Biden with far more serious crimes than what the president’s son has agreed to plead guilty to, and that US attorneys in other districts wouldn’t seek an indictment of the President’s son.

“It appeared to me, based on what I experienced, that the US Attorney in Delaware in our investigation was constantly hamstrung, limited, and marginalized by DOJ officials as well as other US attorneys,” Ziegler said.

The whistleblowers told lawmakers Wednesday that Justice Department officials stopped their investigators from scrutinizing President Joe Biden and his grandchildren, after finding evidence potentially linking them to Hunter Biden’s troubled finances. Shapley, told the committee that Joe Biden’s name came up in their probe of Hunter Biden’s finances, and that his team was essentially blocked from running down those leads. (Some of these references to Joe Biden, including in a much-discussed, alleged WhatsApp message from 2017, occurred when he wasn’t president or vice president.)

“When the subject’s father is somehow related to the finances of the subject, in the normal course of any Investigation, we would have to get that information, to properly vet the financial flows of money, and determine what we end up charging,” Shapley said.

The Justice Department and the White House have previously denied the whistleblowers’ claims that there was any political interference in the Hunter Biden criminal probe. These allegations are consistent with their previous closed-door testimony, which was made public last month. Biden has said he wasn’t involved in his son’s business deals.

Ziegler, who is Shapley’s deputy, also told the panel in his written testimony that he wanted to interview Hunter Biden’s adult children after uncovering potentially illegal deductions in Hunter Biden’s tax returns, related to payments to his children. But a Justice Department prosecutor said that would “get us into hot water” and it didn’t happen, Ziegler wrote.

“This, again, was abnormal and deviation from normal procedure,” Ziegler wrote, though he later acknowledged to lawmakers there are some situations when it might be appropriate for prosecutors to oppose pursuing an interview with a key player.

House Republicans have capitalized on the allegations – from Shapley, a 14-year IRS veteran who oversaw parts of the Hunter Biden criminal probe, and Ziegler, whose prior testimony was anonymous – to support their claims that the Justice Department has become increasingly politicized to protect Democrats and target conservatives.

The testimony from the IRS whistleblowers has also reignited a new push for potential impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Merrick Garland, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces growing pressure from an increasingly restive right flank eager to take aim at President Joe Biden and his Cabinet. McCarthy fueled the momentum by saying he’s open to an impeachment inquiry if the whistleblowers’ claims hold up.

Shapley and his deputy told the House Ways and Means Committee in June that Justice Department officials slow-walked the criminal probe into Hunter Biden’s tax issues, stymied their efforts to obtain subpoenas and search warrants and repeatedly blocked prosecutors from filing felony charges.

The whistleblowers also claimed US Attorney David Weiss, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump and is overseeing the Hunter Biden probe, allegedly said in an October 2022 meeting he could not make final charging decisions against the president’s son, and that he was denied special counsel status when he asked for it.

Republicans have seized on these comments to claim that Garland was not truthful when he told Congress that Weiss had full authority on the investigation. But Garland and Weiss have rejected most, if not all, of the GOP lawmakers’ assertions. Also, it’s common for there to be internal disagreements among investigators, like those described by the IRS agents, a point Democrats have made in memo ahead of the hearing, according to a copy of the memo obtained by CNN.

Shapley accused Weiss and DOJ of responding to his allegations with “carefully worded denials and evolving half-truths.”

Supervisory IRS Special Agent Gary Shapley and IRS Criminal Investigator Joseph Ziegler arrive for a House Oversight Committee hearing related to the Justice Department's investigation of Hunter Biden, on Capitol Hill July 19, 2023 in Washington, DC.

In his closed-door deposition last month, Ziegler told lawmakers that he is gay, and pushed back against the notion that his sexual orientation influences his politics or his job.

“People have said, because I’m gay and that I am working as the case agent on this investigation, that I must be a far-left liberal, perfectly placed to fit some agenda. This was stuff that was on social media regarding me,” Ziegler told the committee, according to a transcript of his deposition. “I can tell you that I am none of those things. I’m a career government employee, and I have always strived to not let politics enter my frame of mind when working cases.”

It’s not clear which social media posts Ziegler was referring to. But a 644-page report about Hunter Biden – which was compiled by a former Trump White House aide, posted online, and has circulated widely in right-wing circles – highlighted Ziegler’s sexual orientation and used it to accuse him of being “biased” in the Hunter Biden criminal probe.

Ziegler said in his private testimony that he grew up in a conservative household and “held conservative beliefs,” but now identifies as a Democrat with “middle-of-the-road” views.

Democrats also noted that many investigative decisions that the two whistleblowers disagreed with occurred during the Trump administration, highlighting specific examples from late 2020.

In his opening statement, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, called his Republican colleagues out for not following through on their mission to connect their investigation to President Joe Biden directly.

“Like every other try by colleagues to concoct a scandal about President Biden, this one is a complete and total bust,” Raskin said.

The White House repeatedly also pointed out that Weiss had been appointed by Trump in advance of Wednesday’s hearing, encouraging Republicans instead to “focus on the issues most important to the American people.”

“There are real issues Americans want us to be spending our time on, and President Biden believes we can work together to make real progress, if House Republicans would make an effort instead of constantly staging partisan stunts to try to damage him politically,” said Ian Sams, a White House spokesman responding to Republican-led congressional investigations.

Weiss also refuted claims made about his title overseeing the investigation, writing in a separate letter to Congress that he never requested special counsel status but rather explored becoming a “special attorney” under a different statute.

House Republican committee chairs have requested interviews from Weiss and a number of individuals involved in the Hunter Biden criminal probe. The Justice Department informed House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, last week that they will make Weiss available “at an appropriate time” when the ongoing criminal investigation into Hunter Biden is officially closed, and offered to start negotiating how to move forward.

Some of the Democratic members of the committee who are Black and Hispanic used their time to highlight long-running inequities in the American justice system that impact minorities, like disproportionately high rates of incarceration and IRS audits. They ridiculed their Republican colleagues for claiming there is a “two-tiered justice system” that is targeting conservatives.

Asked whether Wednesday’s hearing with the IRS whistleblowers is a step toward impeaching Garland, House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer told CNN, “There’s obviously a lot of eagerness to get the facts out and we’re moving as quickly as we can.” He added, however, that he’s “just in charge of getting the facts out” and that questions of impeachment will come later.

Comer, a Kentucky Republican, said, “We have two brave and credible IRS whistleblowers who have risked their careers to come forward and provide important testimony. Their testimony about the DOJ, FBI, and IRS’s investigation of Hunter Biden confirms the committee’s findings. That there is nothing normal about the Biden family’s business activity.”

Garland, a top target of the House GOP, is slated to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee for a routine oversight hearing in September.

Hunter Biden is scheduled to plead guilty to two tax misdemeanors at a court hearing next week in Delaware.

This story and headline have been updated to reflect additional developments.



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