Connect with us


James Comer’s bribery allegations are out on a very shaky limb



We don’t know much more than we did about a month ago.

Then, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray demanding the release of a document called an FD-1023, detailing an agent’s interview with a source. The particular document they sought described, in their telling, “an alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions.”

The letter was made public in short order and rapidly picked up by conservative media outlets like Fox News. And then … nothing.

Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data newsletter from Philip Bump

The FBI did respond to the request for the document, saying that it opposed its release in part because it risked exposing its sourcing (a standard response) and in part because the allegation is just that: an allegation. The FBI isn’t new at this; it certainly understands why Grassley and (particularly) Comer are eager to have it released. An allegation encoded on an FBI form has a perceived weight that an allegation presented in a congressional press release doesn’t, even if that perception is unwarranted.


So for a few weeks, Grassley and (particularly) Comer have been agitating for the June 2020 document to come out anyway. We’ve learned one new detail, via Comer’s regular Fox News appearances: The allegation reportedly involves the sum of $5 million. Otherwise, it’s just Grassley and (particularly) Comer pressing the FBI to release the document and threatening contempt charges against Wray if he doesn’t do so. This happens a lot; former attorneys general Eric Holder and William P. Barr were held in contempt of Congress, for example.

On Wednesday, there was an incremental development on that front. Wray got on the phone with congressional leaders including Comer, Grassley and — separately — the Oversight Committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.). A few hours later, Comer appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program to reveal what the conversation had produced.

Wray “offered us the opportunity to come look at” the document, “but he was going to redact it,” Comer said. “My experience with getting documents from the FBI when they’re redacted, they’re very — it’s all black lines. They don’t show anything.”

“But I’m going to say on this show what we told Director Wray, what Senator Grassley told Director Wray,” he continued: “He and I have already seen the 1023 form. We knew what was in the 1023 form. Until we told Director Wray that, he never even admitted that the form existed.”

We should note quickly that Comer didn’t say what Wray planned to redact. So when he told Hannity that he, too, would redact part of the document — the source’s name — skeptical viewers might have wondered if that was all Wray similarly intended.

Skeptical viewers might also have wondered something else: If you already know what the allegation is, why don’t you just investigate the allegation?

The logical implication from Grassley and Comer having seen the document is that their whistleblower is someone who had access to it; to wit, a current or former employee of the FBI or the government. (CNN reported on Wednesday that the document at issue may have been part of a number of files Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani gave the Justice Department in 2020.) Whoever the source was, they had a copy of the reporting document for years without more details about it being uncovered. Never mind that the allegation about Biden emerged in June of the year Donald Trump was seeking reelection, seemingly without Barr’s Justice Department developing a criminal case around it.


But Comer and Grassley have been aware of its contents for a month, and all they appear to have done is pester the FBI about it. Remember, Comer held a news conference in early May during which he alleged that foreign money had at times moved between members of Biden’s family. That was the product of months of investigations based on financial documents the Oversight Committee had retained.

There was no evidence presented of a $5 million payment to then-Vice President Joe Biden or his intermediaries. Perhaps the bank records were too narrow. Or perhaps there was no such payment.

As eager as Comer has been to make allegations about Biden based on this single-source document, Grassley has been reticent. He appeared on Fox News on Thursday morning, carefully but deliberately stepping back from Comer’s claims.

“We aren’t interested in whether or not the accusations against Vice President Biden are accurate or not,” Grassley said. “We’re responsible for making sure the FBI does its job, and that’s what we want to know.”

Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer asked what the document said.

“I’m not going to characterize it,” the senator replied.

“How damning is this document to the sitting U.S. president?” Hemmer asked a bit later.


“I don’t know that,” Grassley replied, “and that’s what we need to —”

“But you’ve read it,” Hemmer pressed.

“I read it,” Grassley replied. “Let’s put it this way: There’s accusations in it, but that’s — it’s not for me to make a judgment about whether these accusations are accurate or not. It’s up to my job to make sure the FBI is doing their job.”

It’s fair to say, given Comer’s television appearances, that Grassley’s assertion that “we” aren’t interested in whether the accusations are accurate does not actually encompass both him and his colleague. Though in a way it does, since Comer seems eager to amplify them even in the most abstract way without offering evidence they are valid.

This brake-pumping by Grassley is nonetheless important. And the timing is interesting: Grassley is being cautious in the immediate wake of Wray confirming to Raskin and the Democrats that they, too, will soon be able to see the accusation. Meaning that, after a month of Republicans shielding the claims from the opposition, Democrats and eventually the White House will be able to evaluate them and, if possible, offer evidence undermining them.

The letter from Comer and Grassley came out May 5, by which point they’d presumably seen the document. At the very least, they knew what the accusation was. Since then, though, there’s no evidence that they did anything to investigate it. Instead, they spent a month hammering the FBI in keeping with the political right’s (and Donald Trump’s) interest in casting the bureau as a political opponent.

Maybe in another month, we’ll know that there is a real accusation that’s currently part of a robust FBI probe that threatens the Biden White House. Or, perhaps, we’ll learn that the whole thing was dubious from the outset and that Grassley and (particularly) Comer had been trying to wring political power out of a dry sponge.


Update: On Thursday, FBI acting assistant director Christopher Dunham sent a letter to Comer and Raskin articulating the offer to view the document. Calling the action “an extraordinary accommodation,” Dunham explained that the document would include “limited redactions necessary to protect the identity of the confidential human source” — in other words, presumably not much more than what Comer himself endorsed.

Source: Washington Post

Follow us on Google News to get the latest Updates