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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Republicans, escalating attacks on FBI, vow to hold director in contempt

Hunter Biden greets people on the street as President Joe Biden visits Dundalk, Ireland, April 12, 2023. FBI officials briefed lawmakers on an unsubstantiated bribery allegation against then-Vice President Biden in 2020, but declined to allow them to leave a secure area with a document detailing it.

By Luke Broadwater and Adam Goldman

House Republicans said they would move this week to hold the FBI director, Christopher Wray, in contempt of Congress, escalating their attacks on the federal law enforcement agency as they grasp for evidence of wrongdoing by President Joe Biden.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., chair of the Oversight Committee, made the announcement after summoning FBI officials to Capitol Hill for a closed-door briefing on a document containing an unverified allegation of bribery against Biden when he was vice president. The Trump Justice Department investigated the allegation, which involved his son Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine, in 2020, but prosecutors could not substantiate the claims, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Yet Comer, who has said he is investigating whether Joe Biden traded on his office for money, has repeatedly insinuated that there is more to it; on Monday, he asserted that the allegation “has never been disproven.”

At the chair’s insistence, Wray’s team brought the document to a secure area of the Capitol on Monday and briefed Comer and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, on it for about 90 minutes. But Comer complained afterward that the agency, citing concern about protecting the identity of the informant, declined to allow other members of the committee to view it.

“We will now initiate contempt of Congress hearings this Thursday,” Comer told reporters on Capitol Hill, adding, “The ball is in the FBI’s court.”

The surfacing of the unsubstantiated allegation against Biden is the latest bid by Republicans to undermine the credibility of the FBI, which they have sought to vilify after the bureau and the Justice Department began investigations into former President Donald Trump’s role in trying to overturn the 2020 election and his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.

Republicans have relied on former FBI agents — some of whom have embraced Jan. 6 conspiracy theories and have even accepted money from a Trump ally — to provide information against the bureau.

Raskin said the document Comer sought, and Wray provided, contained an allegation from an informant relaying a conversation with someone else, which the informant could not corroborate. He said the Justice Department under former Attorney General Bill Barr “found no reason to escalate it from an assessment to a so-called preliminary investigation.”

“What we’re talking about is secondhand hearsay,” Raskin said, adding, “That confidential human source said that he had no way of knowing about the underlying veracity of the things that he was being told.”

Calling attention to the document is Comer’s latest effort to keep public attention on Hunter Biden’s business activities, which Republicans have made a focus of their investigations for years.

“We are not interested in whether the allegations against Vice President Biden are accurate or not,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said last week on Fox News. “We’re responsible for making sure the FBI does its job.”

Republicans have long alleged that Hunter Biden used his seat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma — for which he was paid substantial sums — to influence his father. A career State Department official even raised concerns with a senior White House official in 2015 about the situation.

The attention on Hunter Biden from the right reached a high point in 2020, after Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani began circulating materials about the younger Biden, including photos and documents from a laptop he had abandoned at a Delaware repair shop.

In 2020, Barr asked the top federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh, Scott W. Brady, to examine any information Giuliani had on the Biden family and send anything that might be useful for other prosecutors to them.

One person familiar with the material who insisted on anonymity to discuss it said some of it was junk that was plainly not credible. The bribery allegation against Biden was never elevated to a preliminary investigation, according to people familiar with the inquiry, but Brady did forward some information from his work to other prosecutors.

Richard P. Donoghue, then a top official in the Trump Justice Department, agreed with Brady that the matter did not need to be investigated further, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., a member of the Oversight Committee who examined allegations against Joe Biden and Burisma as part of a House impeachment team in 2019, said the Republican narrative had fallen flat because Biden sought to crack down on corruption in Ukraine, not enable it.

“The facts are actually directly contrary to any of the Republican allegations,” Goldman said.

After the briefing Monday, Comer claimed the informant’s allegation “is currently being used in an ongoing investigation,” but Raskin described Comer as “recycling stale and debunked Burisma conspiracy theories long peddled by Rudy Giuliani.”

The FBI went to some lengths to make the documents available to lawmakers, first inviting them to bureau headquarters and then bringing the material to the Capitol to accommodate their schedules.

“The FBI has continually demonstrated its commitment to accommodate the committee’s request, including by producing the document in a reading room at the U.S. Capitol,” the bureau said in a statement Monday. “The escalation to a contempt vote under these circumstances is unwarranted.”

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