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Hunter Biden tells U.S. Congress he'd testify publicly, but Republicans demand closed-door session

Hunter Biden walks with wife Melissa Cohen as they visit shops with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden in Nantucket, Mass., Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough) Hunter Biden walks with wife Melissa Cohen as they visit shops with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden in Nantucket, Mass., Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)
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WASHINGTON -

Hunter Biden offered Tuesday to testify publicly before Congress, striking a defiant note in response to a subpoena from Republicans and setting up a potential high-stakes faceoff even as a separate special counsel probe unfolds and his father, U.S. President Joe Biden, campaigns for reelection.

The Democratic president's son slammed the subpoena's request for closed-door testimony, saying it can be manipulated. But Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, stood firm, saying Republicans expect "full cooperation" with their original demand for a deposition.

Hunter Biden's lawyer called the inquiry a "fishing expedition," a response in line with the more forceful legal approach he's taken in recent months as congressional Republicans pursue an impeachment inquiry seeking to tie his father to his business dealings.

The early-November subpoenas to Hunter Biden and others from Comer were the inquiry's most aggressive steps yet, testing the reach of congressional oversight powers.

Republicans have so far failed to uncover evidence directly implicating President Biden in any wrongdoing. But questions have arisen about the ethics surrounding the Biden family's international business, and lawmakers insist their evidence paints a troubling picture of "influence peddling" in their business dealings, particularly with clients overseas.

Comer said Tuesday that the president's son could testify publicly in the future, but he expects him to sit for a deposition on Dec. 13 as outlined in the subpoena.

"Hunter Biden is trying to play by his own rules instead of following the rules required of everyone else. That won't stand with House Republicans," he said. Rep. Jim Jordan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said Republicans will stick with a private deposition first and then a public hearing. "We're happy he wants to talk," he said.

Hunter Biden, for his part, said his business dealings are legitimate and accused Republicans of seeking to contort his past struggles with addiction. His attorney Abbe Lowell said in Tuesday's letter that his client had previously offered to speak with the committee without a response. He's willing to appear publicly rather than behind closed doors because those sessions can be selectively leaked and used to manipulate the facts, Lowell said.

"If, as you claim, your efforts are important and involve issues that Americans should know about, then let the light shine on these proceedings," Lowell wrote.

Hunter Biden offered to appear on Dec. 13, the date named in the subpoena, or another day next month. Republicans have also spoken with an attorney for his uncle James Biden to determine a date for his subpoenaed testimony, Jordan said. The subpoenas to the Biden family members and others, including former business associate Rob Walker, are bitterly opposed by Democrats, and the White House has called for them to be withdrawn.

"House Republicans should really focus on American families instead of the president's family. That's what Americans want to see," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, blasted the GOP rejection of Hunter Biden's offer to testify publicly on Dec. 13, saying, "What the Republicans fear most is sunlight and the truth."

Hunter Biden's response comes as he pushes back against his detractors in court, pursuing a flurry of lawsuits against Republican allies of former President Donald Trump who have traded and passed around private data from a laptop that purportedly belonged to him.

President Biden, for his part, has had little to say about his son's legal woes beyond that Hunter did nothing wrong and he loves his son. The White House strategy has generally been to keep the elder Biden focused on governing and voters focused on his policy achievements.

That could prove more difficult as Hunter Biden continues to fight both the congressional probe and a criminal case into the next year, and there are indications it's politically fraught territory for the president.

An October poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 35 per cent of U.S. adults believe Joe Biden personally has done something illegal with regard to the business dealings of his son. An additional 33 per cent say the president acted unethically but did not violate the law. Just 30 per cent say Joe Biden did nothing wrong.

Hunter Biden is charged with three firearms felonies related to the 2018 purchase of a gun during a period he has acknowledged being addicted to drugs. The case was filed after an expected plea deal on tax evasion and gun charges imploded during a July hearing.

No new tax charges have been filed, but the Justice Department special counsel overseeing the long-running investigation has indicated they are possible in California, where he now lives.

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Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri and Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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