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The latest in the battle between House Republicans and Hunter Biden

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Now to Washington and the latest in the battle between House Republicans and President Biden's son, Hunter Biden. Earlier this month, the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees subpoenaed Hunter Biden, demanding that he testify behind closed doors. Now, Hunter Biden is telling Congress he's willing to testify in public. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is following all of this and joins us now. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.

SUMMERS: So Ryan, I want to set aside Hunter Biden's offer to testify. We'll get to that later. Can you just first set the stage for us? Because I feel like this has been a very long-running battle between House Republicans and the president's son.

LUCAS: Right. House Republicans have really tried, over time, to zero in on what they say are Hunter Biden's questionable business dealings, and they've made him a key part of their impeachment inquiry into his father, President Biden, of course. House Republicans and a lot of Republicans in the Senate as well, actually, have tried to put a spotlight for a long time on the younger Biden, in part because they think that he's a political liability for the president.

Hunter has had issues. It has to be said. He's had well-documented struggles with addiction. He was indicted earlier this year on federal gun charges. But Republicans have really focused on his business activities and trying to tie those to his father, and so the House Oversight and House Judiciary Committees subpoenaed Hunter Biden earlier this month. They are demanding that he testify on December 13 and that he do so behind closed doors.

SUMMERS: I understand, Ryan, that Hunter Biden's response came in a letter from his attorney to the oversight committee. What did it say?

LUCAS: Well, this is a three-page letter from Hunter's attorney, Abbe Lowell. It's part of what appears to be a more aggressive defense strategy of late. And Lowell takes aim at the committee and what he calls its, quote-unquote, "partisan crusade." He says the panel has failed to tie Hunter Biden's business activities to his father. Lowell says Hunter's legal team has offered to meet with the committee and to provide relevant information. He says the committee has never responded. But what it's done instead, he says, was issue this subpoena, which Lowell calls a Hail Mary pass, as time is running out. He also says if the House inquiry wants to inform the public, Hunter will come answer the committee's questions in a public hearing. He accuses the committee of using closed-door testimony in the past to selectively leak information and misinform the public. Having Hunter Biden testify in public, he says, would prevent that.

SUMMERS: Huh. What has the committee had to say in response, if anything?

LUCAS: Well, the committee's chairman, Republican James Comer, wasn't having any of it. He accused Hunter Biden of trying to play by his own rules. He says that's not going to fly. Comer says the committee's subpoena is lawful, and he says he expects Hunter Biden to show up and testify on December 13, as the subpoena demands. But Comer also says that Biden should have a chance to testify in public but at an unspecified future date.

The top Democrat on the committee, unsurprisingly, had a decidedly different take. Jamie Raskin says Republicans have been pushing some grand, unproven Biden family conspiracy, and they've been demanding to hear from Hunter Biden. And he says, now here's Hunter Biden offering to answer their questions in public, and here, Republicans are saying no.

SUMMERS: OK. So there's a question about the politics of all of this.

LUCAS: Right.

SUMMERS: Has the Republican effort to focus intently on Hunter Biden actually paid off with voters? Any evidence there?

LUCAS: So remember, House Republicans are doing this as part of their impeachment inquiry against the president, although they've dug up, as I said, no evidence so far of illegal activity. But their effort does appear - the controversy surrounding the younger Biden does appear to be registering with the public. An NPR poll from early October shows that 63% of respondents believe President Biden has done something unethical or illegal in relation to his son's business dealings. Unsurprisingly, there's a break along party lines on that. Nine in 10 Republicans think Biden's done something wrong. Only 1 in 3 Democrats do.

SUMMERS: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you.

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Ryan Lucas
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.