Monday evening brought another iteration of an increasingly common exchange in Washington: a he-said, he-said recapping of a private debriefing of a government employee.
In this case, the two pertinent people are once again the leaders of each party’s caucus on the House Oversight Committee, Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.). And, once again, the dispute’s rapid descent into picayune details means that observers are left evaluating not the claims but the men offering them.
And on that measurement, Comer has consistently undermined his own efforts.
The most recent disagreement centers on sworn testimony from an FBI agent who worked on the investigation into President Biden’s son Hunter. (Hunter Biden reached a deal with federal prosecutors last month to plead guilty to two tax-related charges and admit to the facts of a gun charge.) An IRS employee came forward earlier this year to allege that the Hunter Biden case had involved inappropriately deferential behavior on the part of investigators, an allegation that was embraced by Republicans eager to depict the outcome of that probe as overly lenient.
The whistleblower’s claims about his interactions prompted a response from U.S. Attorney David Weiss, who suggested that the whistleblower had misunderstood elements of an October 2022 meeting. That was followed by a letter from the Justice Department to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), reiterating the department’s position.
Oversight staff then deposed the FBI agent. According to a statement from the Republican committee majority — echoed by Comer in a television interview — the agent “CONFIRMED key portions of the IRS whistleblowers’ testimony, including that both Secret Service headquarters and the Biden transition team were TIPPED OFF about the planned Hunter Biden interview.” (Emphasis in the original.)
“The agent’s testimony is sickening,” the statement read at another point, “and reveals the lengths to which the DOJ is willing to go to cover up for the Bidens.”
That the statement refers to “the Bidens,” looping the president into something involving his son, is by now par for the course.
Raskin, however, put out a statement with a decidedly different tone.
“The witness also indicated he did not suspect any political purpose or improper motivation behind FBI headquarters’ putative decision in December 2020 to notify a ‘transition team’ and U.S. Secret Service headquarters prior to Hunter Biden’s interview,” the Raskin statement reads, calling on Comer to release the entire interview.
So what’s the important point here? Adjudicating the specific claims made by the FBI agent is tricky without the transcript. It’s useful to note, though, how far we are from the president: It’s a fight over what one participant in a lengthy process says about one aspect of an effort to investigate someone related to Joe Biden. For Comer, it’s a victory in a subset of a subset of a subset of what he’s hoping to accomplish.
But you can also see how the victory depends upon the presentation made by Comer and the Oversight majority. Raskin frames the same thing very differently.
The problem for Comer is that he has spent months crying wolf on these same issues.
His television interview on Monday, in which he declared that the FBI agent confirmed “that they were blocked at every turn,” unsurprisingly took place on Fox News. Comer has been a regular on the network since May, when he joined Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) in publicly alleging that President Biden had been involved in a bribery scheme.
That allegation went nowhere. Comer (and Grassley) tried repeatedly to prop it up and spin it out, but it remains centered on a secondhand claim from one individual — likely to be from an individual who made a contradictory claim at another point.
As Comer tried to hype the allegation, though, he kept showing up on Fox News, including one infamous appearance with Maria Bartiromo in which he announced that the bribery informant had gone “missing.” That spun off a lot of theorizing about nefarious deeds by the Biden cabal, but it turns out that Comer was actually mixing up two “informants.” The one who had gone missing was Gal Luft.
Luft did, in fact, go missing, but not because he was abducted by black-garbed Biden goons. He was on the lam, fleeing federal charges of evading Iranian sanctions, trafficking arms and secretly aiding Chinese interests. That Luft claimed to have dirt on the Bidens appears to have come to the Oversight Committee’s attention only after his arrest earlier this year. So Comer and his allies hyped Luft as an informant only after he was known to have been arrested on behalf of the federal government.
The Luft indictment was unsealed this month but filed in November. Comer should have known that the indictment was months old, given that Luft had gone missing thanks to his fleeing those same charges. But, speaking to Fox News after the charges were unsealed, he suggested that it was somehow an attempt to silence Luft.
“The timing is always coincidental, according to the Democrats and the Department of Justice,” Comer said. And it is always suspicious when you’re more interested in elevating suspicion than evidence.
May also saw Comer and the Oversight majority unveil the results of an extended investigation into Hunter Biden’s financial activity. The upshot? There was no demonstrable link to Hunter’s father, the president. Instead, Comer and his allies insisted that the “Biden family” had engaged in suspicious activity that, it turns out, was a microcosm of the sorts of things that the family of Donald Trump had similarly engaged in. Comer has nonetheless consistently conflated the allegations he makes about Hunter Biden or Joe Biden’s brother with the president himself.
A few things are demonstrably true. It is true that Hunter Biden appears to have leveraged his last name to his benefit. It is true that he did work with foreign companies, though he has not been shown to have promoted the political interests of foreign governments (which is alleged in the case of Luft). It may be shown that the Hunter Biden probe was handled inappropriately, as the IRS whistleblower alleges. It may even still be the case that a link is proved between Hunter Biden’s financial interests and Joe Biden, though no such link has yet been shown.
The challenge for Republicans is that at least one of the legislators driving their investigations into Biden has repeatedly tripped over his allegations or offered claims that he couldn’t substantiate. The problem is that James Comer has repeatedly shown that James Comer should be taken with a grain of salt.