IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The GOP has to keep pretending its Biden investigations are legit

A new document from the House Oversight Committee's Republican staff claims that there's a serious legislative reason for its probes.

When Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., first took over as chair of the House Oversight Committee in January, he promised to “root out waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in the federal government and hold President [Joe] Biden accountable.” Since then, he has mostly focused on the last of those points, promising repeatedly to be this close to proving that Biden and his family have secretly enriched themselves during his time in government.

Comer and his fellow Republicans held a press conference on Wednesday to release the results of their first four months of work. They threw around plenty of insinuations and accusations, but offered little in the way of evidence to back up their claims. While the briefing aimed to lend a patina of seriousness to the probes, it instead shone a spotlight on the farce the Oversight Committee is staging.

While the briefing aimed to lend a patina of seriousness to the probes, it instead shone a spotlight on the farce the Oversight Committee is staging.

Much of the event followed the contours of a memo that Comer released on Wednesday morning. The authors — the committee’s Republican staff — portrayed the memo as an update for Republican committee members on the “investigation of the President’s role in his family members’ and business associates’ foreign and domestic business practice.” But partway through reading it, I realized that the intended audience wasn’t necessarily Comer’s fellow members of Congress. Instead, it makes much more sense to read it as cover against any potential legal challenges to subpoenas the Oversight Committee may issue down the line.

Last month, Comer was one of several House committee chairs, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, that sought testimony about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment of former President Donald Trump. It wasn’t hard to determine that Comer’s motives were at best merely political. At worst, it was an attempt to interfere with the prosecution of the current front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. In rebutting the lawsuit that Bragg filed against Jordan and the Judiciary Committee, Republicans insisted that there was a legitimate legislative purpose to their questioning.

It was enough to get a federal district judge to agree with them, allowing the subpoena against a former prosecutor working the Trump case under Bragg to be carried out. That ruling was prominently featured in the memo Comer sent on Wednesday to justify the ongoing probe. As NBC News reported, Comer also made sure to document the potential congressional action that could be on the table once the investigations are complete:

Comer also said the committee is considering legislation “aimed at deficiencies it has identified in ethics laws and disclosure laws for immediate family members, a vice president and the president.” It is also considering legislation that would “strengthen reporting requirements related to certain foreign transactions involving senior elected officials’ family members, he said.

In addition, Comer said the committee is evaluating the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money-laundering laws to “determine whether financial institutions had the available tools and support from federal agencies to thwart illegal money laundering and foreign corruption activity.”

Let us take Comer at face value for just a moment. In this hypothetical world, maybe he really is concerned about “the national security implications of a Vice President’s or President’s (and candidates for such offices) immediate family members receiving millions of dollars from foreign nationals, foreign companies, or foreign governments without any oversight,” as his memo on Wednesday indicated. Tightening ethics laws surrounding the presidential family would be a net good and well within the scope of the Oversight Committee.

But when you think about it for more than two seconds you can see why there will be little appetite among the GOP to actually make these legislative changes. Even if they could make any new tweaks to the law retroactive to any point in time when Biden was in office and Hunter was operating his businesses that are under scrutiny, those changes would then also cover the Trump administration. That would be too embarrassing given how the Trump Organization operated as a funnel for foreign money to pour into the family’s bank accounts during those years.

Further, imagine that they were to pass said changes to the law, and Trump were to win in 2024. The last thing that Republicans would want is for more ammunition for ethics watchdogs to expose the ways that the Trump family has enriched itself off his presidency. Comer has already been clear that he has no interest in, for example, probing how Jared Kushner has raised billions from the Saudis for his venture capital project.

Without a chance to nail the Bidens and paint them as criminals, there’s no political upside to sell to a GOP base that’s already howling about the lack of arrests. But to keep the investigations going, Comer has to pretend that they have a purpose beyond political point-scoring. Dropping that pretense would leave the whole affair vulnerable to a court slapping down future committee subpoenas of Biden administration officials or Hunter himself.

That leads to the current situation where the political nature of their probes runs counter to their stated legislative goals. Rather than cobbling together a bipartisan bill that strengthens ethics laws and safeguards the presidency against influence peddling, Republicans just have to keep on acting like they’re on the precipice of exposing Biden as a crook. It’s embarrassing for them and a wasted opportunity to actually get something good done with their majority.