House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky., is very upset with FBI Director Chris Wray. At issue is a document that Comer has subpoenaed from the bureau that he and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have said “describes an alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President [Joe] Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions.”
That sounds like the kind of thing that Congress should definitely look into. There’s just one problem: According to CNN, the original source of the claim came from a slew of material, “many originating from sources in Ukraine,” that former credible person Rudy Giuliani provided to the Department of Justice in 2020. (NBC News has yet to independently verify CNN’s reporting on the contents of the document that has been subpoenaed.) That would mean that House Republicans are somehow still committed to following Giuliani down the exact same rabbit hole he has been plummeting to the bottom of for years.
House Republicans are somehow still committed to following Giuliani down the exact same rabbit hole he has been plummeting to the bottom of for years.
The fight is specifically over what’s known as an FD-1023 form, an internal FBI document that details “records of interactions with confidential sources,” according to NBC News. The subpoena that Comer issued covers all such forms, “including within any open, closed, or restricted access case files, created or modified in June 2020, containing the term ‘Biden,’ including all accompanying attachments and documents to those FD-1023 forms.”
In response, the FBI very politely said absolutely not. In a letter to Comer and Grassley, Christopher Dunham, the bureau’s acting assistant director for congressional affairs, explained that handing over the documents would go against Justice Department policy, which “strictly limits when and how confidential human source information can be provided outside of the FBI.” Comer and Grassley have threatened to hold Wray in contempt of Congress for not handing over the documents. According to NBC News, the FBI said in a statement that Wray has offered the chairman “an opportunity to review information responsive to the subpoena in a secure manner to accommodate the committee, while protecting the confidentiality and safety of sources,” but Comer still seems set on moving forward with contempt proceedings.
Now seems like a good time to point out that the information in these documents amounts to just accusations. Comer knows this because, as Dunham explained in another letter to him sent Tuesday, the FBI provided a deputy assistant director of its Directorate of Intelligence to brief the Oversight Committee’s staff last month on what FD-1023s contain and why they can’t be disseminated. Moreover, Dunham pointed out that recording information from a source “does not validate the information, establish its credibility, or weigh it against other information known or developed by the FBI.”
That’s important when you consider the provenance of the information that Comer is after. Giuliani threw a series of unverified claims at the DOJ in February 2020, after his fruitless hunt for dirt on Biden in Ukraine had snowballed into his client, former President Donald Trump, being impeached. When confirming that the department had accepted information from Giuliani’s sleuthing, then-Attorney General William Barr said, “We can’t take anything we received from Ukraine at face value.”
The material in question was dubious enough that Barr “directed that they be reviewed by a U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, in part because Barr was concerned that Giuliani’s document tranche could taint the ongoing Hunter Biden investigation overseen by the Delaware U.S. attorney,” CNN reported on Wednesday. “Former Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney Scott Brady oversaw the FBI investigation of the Giuliani claims. The 1023 document being demanded by Comer is among the products of that investigation,” CNN reported.
It seems not even the Donald Trump-era Justice Department found anything worth pursuing.
Whether the claims are accurate doesn’t matter to the GOP in this case.
A few important things to note from this. It is increasingly clear that Comer is knowingly making something out of nothing for the headlines it generates. The FBI has been more than patient in explaining why the documents that he’s after can’t be handed over — but it’s far more sensational to imply that the FBI is hiding something to protect Biden. And there’s little to be gained from the document itself, other than information that Giuliani could provide to Comer himself, if it doesn’t contain proof that the claims are true.
But whether the claims are accurate doesn’t matter to the GOP in this case. That’s not me putting words in their mouths. Comer admitted that the House investigations into Biden are justified by the president’s poll numbers, a Kinsley gaffe that he has scrambled to clean up. Likewise, Grassley said in a Fox News appearance on Thursday that they “are not interested in whether the allegations against Vice President Biden are accurate or not,” claiming this clash is more about FBI oversight than the actual document. I’m skeptical, considering the supposed leads on the Bidens’ misdeeds they’ve been chasing so far have amounted to nothing, leaving them with a need to produce something to convince the GOP base that they’re still on the case.
What’s really incredible, though, is that Republicans remain so addicted to Giuliani’s torrent of misinformation, wild speculation and credulous laundering of unverified information provided by shady characters with their own agendas. Trump’s first impeachment shone a glaring spotlight on the speciousness of the claims Giuliani was gathering about supposed misdeeds by the Bidens in Ukraine. And yet, the GOP is still doing exactly what Trump tried to blackmail Ukraine into doing: running investigations that are solely about hurting Biden politically, based on information gathered by a man who has at this point repeatedly proven himself to be a terrible judge of what counts as credible evidence.