Last week, Smith’s committee released transcripts from interviews it had conducted with two agents who had helped oversee the Biden investigation. The supervisory agent, Gary Shapley, offered a detailed account claiming that Justice Department officials had slowed and stymied the investigation, whittling away the most serious evidence of alleged tax crimes.
The release of the transcripts came two days after Biden agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and to admit to lying on a gun purchase application, a deal that will probably allow him to avoid jail time. Biden is due in federal court in Wilmington, Del., on July 26 to enter his plea, which must be approved by a judge.
Lowell’s letter battling with Congress illustrated that while the president’s son appears close to resolving the federal misdemeanor charges — and this week also settled a separate child support case — he still faces a number of challenges that could yield further headlines. The action is set to move from the courthouse to Capitol Hill, as Republicans delve into Biden’s business dealings and scrutinize the Justice Department’s handling of the criminal investigation.
Smith defended his committee’s actions and criticized Lowell in a statement responding to the letter.
“It’s little surprise that Hunter Biden’s attorneys are attempting to chill our investigation and discredit the whistleblowers who say they have already faced retaliation from the IRS and the Department of Justice despite statutory protections established by law,” Smith said Friday afternoon. “These whistleblowers bravely came forward with allegations about misconduct and preferential treatment for Hunter Biden — and now face attacks even from an army of lawyers he hired.”
He said that his committee “took the appropriate legal steps to share this information with [the] rest of Congress” and that their investigation would continue.
On Thursday, House Republicans requested interviews with U.S. Attorney David Weiss, the Trump administration holdover who oversaw the federal probe of Biden, as well as a dozen other individuals involved in the investigation.
A lawyer for Shapley did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
At a time when U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is largely referring questions about the Biden investigation to Weiss, who in turn has remained silent, it has fallen to Biden’s team to publicly defend the integrity of a Justice Department investigation that charged him with crimes, albeit less serious ones than many Republicans wanted.
Lowell’s salvo signaled the beginning of what could be a newly intense phase of the battle for public opinion between the president’s son and congressional Republicans.
The attorney argued that spotlighting the views of two agents hostile to Biden reflected bad faith on the committee’s part, calling its release of the transcripts “an obvious ploy to feed the misinformation campaign to harm our client, Hunter Biden, as a vehicle to attack his father.”
“The timing of the agents’ leaks and your subsequent decision to release their statements do not seem innocent — they came shortly after there was a public filing indicating the disposition of the five-year investigation of Mr. Biden,” Lowell said. “To any objective eye your actions were intended to improperly undermine the judicial proceedings that have been scheduled in the case.”
Lowell also protested the committee’s release of material in exhibits with the testimony apparently gleaned from subpoenas and search warrants. He took particular issue with the inclusion of a WhatsApp message that has attracted significant attention. In the message — allegedly sent by Biden to a Chinese businessman on July 30, 2017 — the president’s son invokes his father, saying that he is sitting right next to him, as he prods the businessman to take an undisclosed action.
President Biden was out of office at the time, but he has repeatedly said that he never engaged in any of his son’s foreign business dealings. This week, he said he was not with his son when the WhatsApp message was sent.
In his letter, Lowell at times went point-by-point through the agents’ testimony. He complained that the agents were not sworn in or told that false testimony could lead to criminal charges. (The transcript shows that they were in fact warned that providing false testimony could lead to charges.)
Lowell also argued that investigators often push for aggressive action against their targets, while prosecutors must step back and consider what amounts to a chargeable offense in a court of law.
“Your proceedings clearly adopted the agents’ point of view that they were removed from the investigation because they, not the experienced prosecutors and law enforcement leaders, knew the right thing to do and were being punished for making their views known,” Lowell wrote.
“Agents tend to seek out and see inculpatory information; prosecutors weigh that against both exculpatory data and the rules for bringing cases,” he added.
Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.