What Weiss’ congressional interview transcript says about his Hunter Biden probe

Washington — Special Counsel David Weiss — the man charged with leading the federal probe into President Joe Biden‘s son Hunter — told congressional investigators Tuesday that Justice Department officials assured him he would have the necessary authorities to pursue criminal charges against the president’s son in any district he saw necessary, but he ultimately did not seek or receive final authorization, according to a transcript of Weiss’ testimony reviewed by CBS News.

Weiss voluntarily agreed to appear before the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee before the submission of his special counsel report — an unusual move during an ongoing investigation— to “address misunderstandings about the scope of my authority” in the Hunter Biden probe.

Throughout his testimony, which occurred behind closed doors and was the product of negotiations between congressional and Justice Department officials, Weiss said he could not answer numerous questions about decisions made over the course of the years-long probe into the president’s son, citing federal norms that prevent prosecutors from speaking about investigations before they are completed.

Congressional investigators from both sides of the aisle, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, focused on whether Weiss was granted special attorney authority under 28 U.S. Code § 515 in the spring of 2022. That authority would have allowed Weiss to pursue criminal charges in a federal district outside of his jurisdiction.

According to the transcript of his testimony, Weiss — a Trump appointee who was kept on the job to continue the Biden probe —  told Congress he first raised the possibility of being granted that authority from Justice Department officials in 2022 as he explored bringing charges against Hunter Biden in either Washington, D.C., or California. Those officials did not immediately grant Weiss the authority and instead instructed him to first follow what he described as a conventional process of asking to partner with prosecutors in those districts. If those prosecutors refused him, Weiss said the officials assured him he would then be granted the requested authority.

“Look, if you decide to proceed in D.C., you have the authority to do so, and you have the authority to–under 515, to bring whatever charges you deem appropriate,” Weiss recalled a former Justice Department official telling him in 2022. He was referring to Section 515, the federal statute that authorizes federal prosecutors specially appointed by the attorney general to bring charges in districts other than their own. The special counsel said he later took that to mean he could pursue charges in California, too, if he chose.

The U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Matthew Graves, and the U.S. attorney for the central district of California, E. Martin Estrada, told lawmakers in closed-door interviews of their own that they declined to partner with Weiss to pursue criminal charges against Hunter Biden, but did offer to provide administrative and logistical support for his investigation in their respective districts. Weiss told lawmakers his investigation was not “blocked” by their offices, although they did not agree to pursue charges with him.

“They never said no. I asked for it. They said, Let’s follow the process. Go talk–let’s talk to Mr. Graves, see if they’re going to join. We’re going to take it step by step. No one ever said no,” Weiss recalled.

“If the decision was made to proceed, I knew I had the authority to do so,” Weiss said of bringing charges in another district.

“You had already asked Matthew Graves to partner, you had asked Martin Estrada to partner, and both had said no. And so, at that point in time, it’s hard for us to understand, as we sit here today, how didn’t it prove necessary? I mean, this is before you were afforded, you know, Special Counsel status in August of 2023. You write, you know, ‘if it proved necessary,'” asked congressional investigators.

“The question speaks to deliberations…charging decisions,” the special counsel responded in part, according to the transcript. “Those are things I just can’t get into.”

Weiss stressed throughout his interview that he was not “denied” the charging authority, but rather did not officially seek to file the charges that would have required  the approval, according to the transcript.

“I had the authority, but still, I had to proceed consistent with departmental processes,” Weiss said at one point. “Nobody blocked me. Nobody prevented me. I still had the authority, and I had the ability to make the decision.”

“It wasn’t a question of my authority. It was just a question of deciding to move forward,” he answered when he was asked about his communications with officials in California.

What remained unclear from his testimony were the reasons behind his initial decisions  not to pursue charges in the other districts and why – over a year later –  Weiss ultimately decided he needed to be elevated to special counsel to continue his investigation into the president’s son.

“I’m not going to discuss that. That’s a matter — those are privileged communications between myself and the executives at the Department,” he said. Weiss asked for and was granted special counsel status by Attorney General Merrick Garland earlier this year, and he revealed in his testimony that the two have never spoken directly.

Weiss’ testimony comes as Republican-led congressional investigations into Hunter Biden’s finances and business ventures probe whether senior officials, including Weiss, took any steps to obstruct or disrupt criminal investigations into Hunter Biden.

IRS whistleblowers Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, case agents previously assigned to the Hunter Biden investigation, told lawmakers they recommended federal charges be brought against the president’s son for tax violations but testified that Weiss said he had been denied special counsel status and was “not the deciding person” to bring charges in the case. They alleged intentional slow-walking and “an undeniable pattern of preferential treatment” in the federal investigation.

“There were really earth-shaking statements made by David Weiss,” Shapley said in an exclusive interview with CBS News earlier this year. “And the first one was that he is not the deciding person on whether or not charges are filed,” the whistleblower added. “It was just shocking to me.”

Weiss has repeatedly refuted Shapley’s claims and said he did not request special counsel status until August, when the request was “promptly granted” by Garland.

Responding to Shapely’s contention that Weiss said he was “not the deciding person” on bringing charges against Hunter Biden, the special counsel told congressional investigators, “It’s not what I said, nor is it what I believed, as I’ve told you guys repeatedly today.” He later conceded it was possible his comments were misinterpreted.

Shapley’s notes from an October 2022 meeting with participants from the FBI and IRS also included the contention that Weiss told investigators the Justice Department’s Tax Division was to be part of any charging approval process.

“Under the Justice Manual, DOJ Tax has to approve felony charges, right,” Weiss was asked Tuesday.

He responded, “DOJ Tax has approval — is required to approve Title 26 charges. Yes, we have discussed that. And I welcomed DOJ Tax’s input in this case. Never felt that I had an issue in that regard.”

“I’m not challenging the DOJ Tax. And I believe I would’ve said, as I’ve said here today, I’m not operating in a vacuum. There are processes here. And others need to be involved,” he added later, “DOJ Tax was performing its due diligence. And I welcomed that.”

Earlier in his deposition, Weiss testified he could not recall any situation in which the Tax Division and he were ever at an “impasse” and the division was “comfortable” with him making decisions, although he said officials there likely need to sign off on any future decisions.

The special counsel’s office is still considering bringing tax charges in California against the president’s son and in September, Weiss charged Hunter Biden with three felony gun charges in Delaware. Biden pleaded not guilty and has denied wrongdoing.

The charges followed a breakdown in negotiations between Weiss’ team and Biden’s defense after a plea and diversion agreement abruptly fell apart in July. The special counsel refused to answer questions about the failed plea agreement and the next steps in the probe when pressed by House investigators, according to the transcript.

The former IRS agents also alleged Weiss’ office allowed the statute of limitations to expire on charges related to Hunter Biden’s alleged failure to pay taxes in 2014 and 2015 in Washington, D.C.

The special counsel confirmed the statute of limitations has expired, but did not say more. “But even though the statute of limitations has lapsed and even though charges won’t be filed, if there were to be an outstanding tax prosecution, there is no reason to believe that evidence pertaining to prior years, or witnesses involved in prior years, wouldn’t be part of that litigation,” he said.

Weiss said more information about his team’s decision-making processes would be revealed at the end of his investigation in the form of a report, as federal statute dictates.

His testimony largely mirrored letters Weiss wrote to Congressional investigators over the summer. In a July letter to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, Weiss explained that he discussed a possible appointment under Section 515 with federal officials that “would have allowed me to file charges in a district outside my own without the partnership of the local U.S. Attorney.” He said he was “assured” he’d be granted the authority if needed, “months before the October 7, 2022, meeting referenced throughout the whistleblowers’ allegations.”

House Democrats largely dismissed the closed-door testimony as a “farce” and a “complete nothingburger.”

“He (Weiss) stated multiple times that he made all the charging decisions on his own, that no one gave him any instructions or suggestions as to charging decisions,” said House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler. “And the Republicans just keep going over and over the same material and getting the same answers.”

Meanwhile, Republican members of the committee said Weiss was unable to answer many of the questions posed to him.

“Mr. Weiss was here incarnate, but not particularly in spirit,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, said.

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