Hunter Biden with Sean Hannity
Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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STUDY: How Sean Hannity helped build the GOP’s collapsing Hunter Biden impeachment case

Impeachment Chairs Comer, Jordan, and Smith made 86 appearances on Hannity’s Fox show to talk Hunter in 2023

Fox News host Sean Hannity and his House Republican allies spent 2023 trying to manufacture an impeachable offense against President Joe Biden out of their fact-free obsession with the president’s son, Hunter. Hannity’s Fox show aired at least 325 segments about Hunter Biden in 2023, 220 of which featured at least one false or misleading claim, according to an extensive Media Matters review of the program for nine categories of misinformation. 

But the Hunter crusade now appears to be collapsing, with Republicans telling reporters that the House may not even vote on articles of impeachment and pointing fingers at House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-KY) and his habit of conducting his investigation via right-wing media appearances. 

The looming debacle is a black mark for Hannity, who has been fixated on Hunter Biden’s potential to damage his father’s political standing since 2018, serving as the key clearinghouse for Hunter allegations and a cheerleader for the resulting impeachment push. Bogus Hunter Biden claims and conspiracy theories have been a fixture on Fox and throughout the broader right-wing media — but Hannity made them part of his program’s core mission.

When House Republicans triumphed in the 2022 elections, Hannity touted their newfound ability to use the investigative process to find how “the big guy himself, Joe Biden,” had “ended up using his crack-addicted son as a bag man” — allegations he promised would lead to Biden’s impeachment. Over the following year, the notorious GOP propagandist provided a ready platform for House investigators to offer up their thin-gruel findings, and would then trumpet those claims over and over again to his viewers. 

Hannity’s most frequent guest for his program’s Hunter Biden segments was Comer, who made an eye-popping 43 Hannity appearances to discuss the president’s son last year. Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Ways and Means Chair Jason Smith (R-MO), the other two members of the House GOP troika overseeing the impeachment investigation, were also among the most-frequent Hannity guests for Hunter Biden discussions in 2023. 

The group has assembled a massive trove of Hunter Biden minutiae, full of decontextualized snippets that become buzzwords like “the big guy” and “Hunter’s laptop,” the “FBI 1023 Form” and “the IRS whistleblowers.” The terminology, utterly incomprehensible for anyone without a Ph.D. in Sean Hannity Studies, is somehow meant to add up to “potentially the biggest bribery, money laundering scandal in American history,” as Hannity puts it, in which foreign companies and governments paid Hunter Biden for access to Joe Biden, the son kicked back money to the father, and the father took state action to help his son’s partners. 

But no substantive evidence linking Joe Biden to Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings has ever emerged, with several committee witnesses telling investigators they had no knowledge of any wrongdoing or involvement by the president (even as far more direct evidence showed then-President Donald Trump’s own businesses receiving millions from hostile foreign governments while he was in office). The purportedly nefarious Hunter allegations, removed from Hannity’s hothouse atmosphere, wither under tough questions from Democratic members of Congress and journalists at other outlets (and even, somehow, Fox & Friends’ Steve Doocy).

Comer, Jordan, and Smith constantly return to Hannity’s show precisely because he offers nothing resembling scrutiny of their claims. And their colleagues suggest that the result has been that the investigators got high on the likes of Hannity’s supply. Republicans “have grown tired of Comer’s frequent TV hits on conservative networks like Fox News and Newsmax in which they say he promises bombshell information, but then fails to produce impeachable evidence to meet the bar he himself has set too high,” The Messenger reported last month. 

There's still plenty of time for House Republicans to unite for a partisan impeachment. But it now seems plausible that Hannity’s Hunter Biden fixation will go down in history for resulting in the impeachment of Donald Trump — but not that of Joe Biden.

  • Sean Hannity's Hunter Biden obsession, by the numbers

  • Media Matters identified and reviewed every Hannity segment about Hunter Biden in 2023 — all 325 of them. 

    The Fox host averaged more than one segment per night and ran as many as 56 Hunter Biden segments in a single month — August, when Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that he had granted special counsel powers to David Weiss, the Trump-appointed prosecutor who had been investigating Hunter Biden on gun and tax charges.

    Media Matters analysts (including myself) reviewed the transcripts of each segment to determine whether they promoted one of nine categories of misinformation (described below). 

    We found that 220 of the Hannity segments featured at least one of the examples of misinformation, or 68% of the total of 325 segments. In some months, the figure exceeded 80%. (Note that the absence of the particular categories of misinformation we reviewed does not imply that the segments in question were wholly accurate.)

    The conspiracy theory that Joe Biden took corrupt action in Ukraine as vice president to benefit his son’s employer was mentioned in 115 segments, for example, while the falsehood that Hunter Biden paid his father half his salary was referenced in 52. 

    Seventy-one of the 220 Hannity segments about Hunter Biden were monologues by the host. Of those segments, 59 (83%) included at least one of our misinformation categories. 

    We also identified the guests appearing in segments about Hunter Biden. Comer made the most appearances, with 43. His fellow House investigators were also among the most frequent guests: Jordan had the fourth-most appearances, with 32, while Smith had the seventh-most, with 11. 

    Other regulars featured in Hannity’s Hunter Biden segments included Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett (40 appearances), right-wing journalist John Solomon (37), New York Post columnist Miranda Devine (15), and former Trump impeachment lawyer Alan Dershowitz (12). Fox contributor and former Trump White House aide Kellyanne Conway, former Trump acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) rounded out the top 10 with 10 appearances each.

  • The Ukraine conspiracy theory

  • Hannity’s show aired at least 115 segments in 2023 promoting the falsehood that then-Vice President Joe Biden corruptly pressured the Ukrainian government during a December 2015 meeting to fire its then-prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, for conducting a probe into Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden sat at that time. Of those 115 segments, 28 were Hannity monologues.

    The Fox host and his House Republican allies have treated these claims as the heart of a Biden impeachment push — even though it was thoroughly debunked during Trump’s first impeachment. Here’s Jordan trying to lay the theory out after Hannity asked him for the “four facts that never change” following a September impeachment inquiry hearing:

  • JIM JORDAN: Hunter Biden gets put on the board of Burisma. Fact No. 2, he’s not qualified to be on the board, he’s said so himself. Fact No. 3, Burisma executives ask him to weigh in and relieve the pressure. Fact No. 4, Joe Biden does just that, weighs in, relieves the pressure, and that last fact is entirely consistent with what the confidential human source told the FBI and they recorded in the 1023 form. And then the final fact is the Justice Department tried to sweep it under the rug. Sean, this is a tale as old as time, politician takes action that benefits his family financially, and then they try to conceal it. That is as old as the hills, and that is exactly what it looks like played out.

  • This account is totally incomprehensible to someone who isn’t steeped in the deep lore of the Hannity archives. It’s also a version of facts which requires the witting or unwitting involvement of a wide array of figures on multiple continents and contradicts the narrative of Shokin’s firing established by the testimony of several U.S. officials appointed by Democratic and Republican presidents, government documents, and contemporaneous and more recent reporting. 

    In reality, U.S. policy called for firing Shokin, who was viewed as unwilling to prosecute corruption by U.S. diplomats, foreign governments, international bodies, and Ukrainian anti-corruption groups, and his office had not been actively investigating Burisma at the time Vice President Biden sought his removal.

  • The Biden “shell companies”

  • We identified 89 segments in 2023 in which Hannity or his associates suggested that Hunter Biden used an array of “shell companies” for shady and nefarious purposes. They often insinuated that the “shell companies” were a mechanism for laundering money from foreign sources. Of those 89 segments, 20 were Hannity monologues.

    Here are some examples:

    • Hannity, May 12, 2023: “Now, according to an ongoing investigation from the House Oversight Committee, there are over 20 shell companies we learned about this week, mostly formed during Biden's time as VP. … Why were all of these Bidens allegedly now receiving payments from foreign nationals funneled through multiple shell corporations as James Comer is claiming?”
    • Kevin McCarthy to Hannity, August 7, 2023: “I don't know of any other family that puts together in government 20 shell companies while you're the vice president of America.”
    • Hannity, December 6, 2023: “According to the House Ways and Means Committee and Jason Smith, Scherwin was the architect of the Biden family's systems of shell corporations. They have identified dozens of them used to distribute foreign funds. These were not real businesses as far as James Comer is concerned.”
  • This allegation appears to originate with Comer, who claims his committee identified “20-plus shell companies that the Bidens have created to launder the money they were receiving from foreign nationals down to their personal bank account” and regularly uses the terminology on Hannity’s show and elsewhere. 

    But The Washington Post found that the Oversight staff memo actually identified only a single “named ‘shell’ company,” which the partners had quickly decided to dissolve; “virtually all” of the other entities “had legitimate business interests” or “clearly identified business investments.”

  • The Burisma bribe

  • Hannity’s show aired at least 85 Hunter Biden segments in 2023 promoting the dubiously sourced and wholly unproven notion that Mykola Zlochevsky, the Ukrainian oligarch who controlled Burisma, paid a $5 million bribe to Joe Biden. This is an extension of the Ukraine conspiracy theory with all the problems detailed above, in addition to its own issues, but nonetheless is treated credulously by the Fox host. Of those 85 segments, 28 were Hannity monologues.

    In May 2023, Comer and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) put out a joint statement demanding the release of “an FBI-generated FD-1023 form” which showed that Biden “allegedly engaged in a bribery scheme with a foreign national.” As The Washington Post reported:

  • That allegation was based on an FBI interview of an informant who had spoken with Mykola Zlochevsky, founder of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. If validated, it would mark not only a significant legal violation on the part of Biden, but the first time that Comer’s breathless efforts to tie Biden to foreign payments was actually demonstrated.

    It was not validated. Comer and Grassley — who were already familiar with an FBI form detailing the contents of the interview — spent a few weeks demanding that the FBI release the interview to the public. The FBI, concerned both about putting the informant at risk and about making public unsubstantiated claims, decided to offer a redacted version of the memo for legislators to see. Comer and Grassley then started complaining about the redactions as they demanded more people be able to see the interview. Eventually, Grassley just went ahead and released a lightly redacted version on social media.

  • The document Grassley released in July indicates that the FBI informant said that Zlochevsky told them “it costs 5 (million) to pay one Biden, and 5 (million) to another Biden” to help Burisma.

    Hannity provided breathless coverage of the FD-1023 allegations, culminating the night Grassley published it. “There are now real and growing concerns that your president, the president of our country, is compromised,” Hannity said, arguing that through the form, Joe Biden had been “very credibly accused of public corruption on a scale this country has never seen before.” 

    Hannity crony Jarrett, in a subsequent segment, accused Joe Biden of “extortion” as well as “conspiracy, violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” “money laundering, tax fraud, not to mention racketeering,” and “bribery and treason,” which he stressed “are impeachable offenses in addition to being felonies. So, you know, this is a blockbuster scandal that could doom Biden's presidency.”

    But as the Post recounted, the House GOP reviews of the finances of Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and other Biden family members and associates have not found a trace of the purported $5 million payment to Joe Biden or the $5 million payment to Hunter Biden, raising the prospect that the Zlochevsky claim was “part of what the informant identified as a tendency in the region for business executives to brag — as Zlochevsky may have been doing about his purported connections and savvy.”

  • Hunter Biden’s purported admission that he gave “half” his “salary” to his dad

  • At least 52 of the segments on Hannity alluded to a 2019 text message Hunter Biden sent his daughter to suggest that he had admitted handing over a large portion of the profits from his business dealings to his father. In the message, Hunter Biden said, “don’t worry unlike Pop I won’t make you give me half your salary.” Of those 52 segments, 28 were Hannity monologues.

    “Did Joe profit from his son's shady international business deals?” Hannity asked in May. “Now, based on texts and emails from Hunter's laptop from hell, there is evidence that appears to show that Hunter complained bitterly about having to hand over half his salary to ‘Pops.’”

    But a New York Times investigation revealed the interpretation provided on Hannity’s show is wildly incorrect. “Rather than referring to money Hunter Biden received from the Ukrainian energy company Burisma or from a venture with a Chinese partner, Hunter Biden was alluding to his financial support for his own children and his school days, when his father allowed him to keep half the paycheck from part-time jobs but asked that he turn over the other half to help pay for room and board,” the paper reported.

  • The $20 million foreign entities supposedly paid “the Bidens”

  • At least 45 Hannity segments reference the Comer-promoted claim that foreign sources paid $20 million to “the Bidens and their associates.” This is often shortened as the money going to “the Bidens” or “the Biden family.” Of those 45 segments, nine were Hannity monologues.

    “Now, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer says the Bidens overall have taken in tens of millions of dollars from foreign entities in Russia, Ukraine, China, Kazakhstan, Romania and many other countries,” Hannity said in September, demanding that the White House “explain what the Bidens did to earn all of this money, tens of millions of dollars.” 

    But when The Washington Post reviewed the Oversight Committee’s staff memo, the Post found that two-thirds of the money had gone to Biden business partners who were not members of the family. The paper reported that the committee had identified “about $23 million in total payments from foreign sources. Of that, nearly $7.5 million can be fairly attributed as going to ‘Bidens,’ but virtually all of it went to Hunter Biden. No money has been traced to Joe Biden.”

  • Joe Biden as “the big guy” who got “10 percent”

  • At least 43 Hannity segments about Hunter Biden suggested malfeasance by referencing a 2017 email in which Hunter Biden business associate James Gilliar suggested that a 10% stake in a business deal would be “held” by Hunter “for the big guy,” presumably Joe Biden. Of those 43 segments, 21 were Hannity monologues.

    “Bribery, corruption allegations against the big guy, Joe Biden himself swept under the rug,” Hannity complained in June. “The country is in serious trouble. It will only get worse if your big guy wins reelection.”  

    But as the Times noted, none of this ever came to pass: Gilliar “told The Wall Street Journal in 2020 that his suggestion never went anywhere. The former vice president did not get involved with their business, and the proposed deal never produced any profit for anyone to split. … In an interview with the F.B.I., Rob Walker, Hunter Biden’s former business partner, described suggestions of getting Hunter’s father involved with the business as ‘wishful thinking.’”

  • Joe Biden purportedly “sitting” in with Hunter’s Chinese business associate

  • At least 39 segments referenced a 2017 WhatsApp message Hunter Biden sent a potential Chinese business partner in which he stated, “I am sitting here with my father and we would like to know why the commitment has not been fulfilled.” Of those 39 segments, 14 were Hannity monologues.

    Hannity and his cronies regularly cite this message as evidence that Joe Biden was an active participant in Hunter’s foreign business dealings. Hannity said in June the message shows that while Joe Biden has denied involvement with Hunter Biden’s business dealings, “it appears Joe is a critical part of that business.” In a representative August monologue, Hannity said the message shows Joe Biden is “potentially, even likely compromised when it comes to China.”

    But Hunter Biden business associate Devon Archer has testified that while they attempted to sell an “illusion of access,” Joe Biden played no substantive role in their operations. The Times reported regarding the WhatsApp message: “Democrats have argued it is more likely an example of Hunter Biden’s bluster than an accurate statement of Joe Biden’s involvement in a shakedown. A lawyer for Hunter Biden says he does not remember sending the message. The president has denied he was present at the time.”

  • The false claim that Joe Biden received laundered money from his brother

  • At least 13 segments promoted the false GOP claim that Joe Biden’s receipt of $240,000 from his brother James constituted money laundering from foreign business sources. Of those 13 segments, three were Hannity monologies.

    In fact, as the Times notes, evidence shows “Joe Biden had first loaned money to his brother before being repaid.”

  • When Jim Biden worked with Hunter’s “father alone.”

  • Three segments included the false suggestion that a 2018 text to Hunter Biden in which his uncle, James Biden, wrote, “I can work with you father alone !! We as usual just need several months of his help for this to work,” was a reference to their business dealings. One of the segments was a Hannity monologue.

    In fact, as the Times pointed out, “another text in the chain makes clear James Biden was referring to working with Joe Biden to get help for Hunter Biden as he struggled to keep up with his bills, get sober and find a place to live.”

  • Methodology

  • Media Matters searched transcripts in the Nexis database for all original episodes of Fox News Channel's Hannity for either of the terms “Hunter” or “Biden” from January 1, 2023, through December 31, 2023.

    We included segments, which we defined as instances when Hunter Biden was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of Hunter Biden. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed Hunter Biden with one another.

    We then reviewed the identified segments for whether any Fox personality or guest made any of the following false GOP claims at least once:

    1. Suggesting that a Hunter Biden message referring to “half [his] salary” meant Hunter regularly gave his father, President Joe Biden, half of any ill-gotten gains.
    2. Suggesting that the phrase “10 percent for the big guy” in messages with an associate meant Hunter Biden gave his father a stake in his business dealings.
    3. Suggesting that the message from James Biden, President Biden's brother, that he “can work with [Hunter's] father alone” referred to business dealings.
    4. Suggesting that loan repayments of $240,000 from James to President Biden were actually money laundering.
    5. Suggesting that Hunter's invoking President Biden with a business partner was meant to apply pressure for a payment rather than simply bluster on part of Hunter.
    6. Suggesting that President Biden took illicit action to benefit Hunter in business dealings with the Ukrainian company Burisma Holdings Limited.
    7. Suggesting that an FBI informant claimed Burisma's founder sent President Biden a $5 million bribe.
    8. Suggesting that foreign sources have paid “the Bidens and their associates” $20 million.
    9. Suggesting that Hunter used “shell companies” to launder money from foreign sources.