• Wed. May 22nd, 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 heard Wednesday from two IRS whistleblowers whose claims that the Justice Department politicized the Hunter Biden criminal probe have ignited a firestorm among Republicans.

One of the two whistleblowers identified himself publicly for the first time at the hearing: Joseph Ziegler, a 13-year IRS special agent with the Criminal Investigation Division.

In his testimony, Ziegler said he witnessed federal prosecutors deviating from normal procedures, 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.

“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 also 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.

“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, adding that his team was blocked from running down leads related to the president.

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.

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.

CNN has reached out to Hunter Biden’s lawyers, who have previously said the IRS whistleblowers were “disgruntled agents” with “an axe to grind.”

Throughout the six-hour hearing, Democrats poked holes in some of the whistleblowers’ claims and repeatedly noted that the Hunter Biden probe began under then-President Donald Trump and was overseen by a Trump-appointed prosecutor. They also accused Republicans of hypocritically focusing on the Biden family’s finances while ignoring possible conflicts tied to Trump’s business empire.

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 Trump and is overseeing the Hunter Biden probe, 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. Weiss has reiterated in letters to Congress that he always had “ultimate authority” over the investigation.

Also, it’s common for there to be internal disagreements among investigators, like those described by the IRS agent – a point Democrats have made in a memo ahead of the hearing, according to a copy of the memo obtained by CNN.

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 from some right-wing figures 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.”

During the hearing, he singled out 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. The report highlighted Ziegler’s sexual orientation, included photos of him with his husband, and used his sexuality 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.

“We’re not disgruntled. We’re not here to get people. We’re here for accountability, and to learn from this,” Ziegler said as the hearing wrapped up.

In his opening statement, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said his Republican colleagues failed to connect the allegations of wrongdoing to the president.

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

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.

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

The White House repeatedly also pointed out in advance of Wednesday’s hearing that Weiss had been appointed by Trump, 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.

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.

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.”

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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