After weeks of clamoring and buildup, House Oversight Committee chair Rep. James Comer (R-KY) on Thursday will oversee a vote to hold FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt of Congress.
But the staging for this move didn’t begin in April, when House Republicans started spreading outrageous fabrications about a foreign bribery scheme involving Joe Biden. Nor did the choreography begin when the GOP took the majority in the House last year.
Rather, it started at the end of Trump’s first impeachment with Attorney General Bill Barr.
At the time, Barr set up what he described as an “intake process” for material that was brought back from Ukraine by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney and a consummate flirter with shady Eastern European cash flows.
Giuliani had helped get his client, President Trump, impeached in 2019 by demanding that the Ukrainian government produce damaging information about the Bidens. By early 2020, after months of impeachment proceedings and another trip to Kyiv, Giuliani had a binder of records full of fabrications that he wanted loudly and publicly investigated.
Some of that information made its way to the FBI which, per the Washington Post, found it unworthy of further investigation.
Now, in the same way that John Durham spent three years combing through the events around the 2016 election, Comer is reviewing the FBI’s work following the 2019 impeachment. He claims that the FBI’s failure to say that the allegations are true — and refusal to give Comer a copy of a document from the investigation which he could then publicize — should warrant contempt of Congress.
On Monday, the FBI brought the document — a second-hand report of an allegation about a $5 million bribe to Joe Biden — to Capitol Hill, and Comer and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) reviewed it.
At a press conference afterwards, Raskin said that the FBI found the information not credible.
But Comer, undeterred, used it as a springboard to schedule a vote to hold FBI Director Chris Wray in contempt for not letting Comer keep a copy.
Old made new again
When Barr first set up Giuliani’s special intake office, the President had faced months of investigations in the Democratic-controlled House and a subsequent speedy acquittal in the GOP-controlled Senate over his withholding of military aid to Ukraine as part of an effort to extort Kyiv into manufacturing dirt on Trump’s then-potential 2020 presidential opponent, Biden.
Giuliani had played a central role in the effort, acting in a sense as a one-man version of Trump’s personal FBI and DOJ: traveling to Ukraine to “investigate” allegations of wrongdoing by the Bidens, which, in practice, meant receiving information from anyone who was willing to make an allegation. That included at least one person who has since been identified as a Russian agent: Ukrainian politician Andrii Derkach.
The impeachment proceedings wrapped up in early February 2020. But according to records released by nonprofit watchdog American Oversight, the effort to create American investigations into the Bidens continued, with a top Barr deputy asking the then-U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh if he could take on a “possible discreet assignment.”
At around the same time, Barr opened up the “intake process” — cases emanating from Ukraine were to go to Scott Brady, the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney in Pittsburgh.
That resulted in a multi-month probe into much of the same material Trump had seized on to extort Kyiv — a supposed bribery plot that, according to Trumpworld allegations, led to the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor in early 2016.
The claim was that the prosecutor was fired for not going after a gas company advised by Hunter Biden. It’s an allegation that’s been thoroughly refuted, in part because it never made sense: the prosecutor faced criticism for not investigating, not for being too aggressive.
Other documents obtained by American Oversight show top prosecutors in the Pittsburgh office interacting with Giuliani’s attorney in an effort to probe the allegations, before arranging a meeting with DOJ staff. The New York Times later described that meeting as a “tense confrontation” between Brady, an aide to Barr, and FBI officials who saw the investigation as politicized.
But like so many Trump-era efforts to rewrite history, Giuliani’s allegations continued to simmer. One of the investigations that Giuliani sparked through this “intake process” included the claim that Comer is now waving around — that a foreign government bribed Biden with a $5 million payment. Per Raskin and the Washington Post, the FBI immediately debunked the allegation.
Investigate the investigation
Comer has set Wray up for a contempt vote in part by taking up the strategy that Trump acolytes have used over the past several years of scandal: investigate the investigators.
In Comer’s case, that’s meant examining how the FBI reacted to an allegation that, by all accounts, was complete nonsense and had no basis.
It’s thanks to Barr’s “intake process” that the allegation existed in the archives for Comer to find; neither he nor Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who went to the FBI last week to review the record, have vouched for the allegations.
Grassley said that it was “not for me to make a judgment about whether these accusations are accurate or not.”
“It’s my job to make sure the FBI is doing their job, and that’s what this is all about, as far as I’m concerned,” he added last week.
Instead, they’ve used the nonsense bribery claim as a springboard to move forward the same allegations that the FBI has treated Trump very unfairly forward, this time by suggesting that it’s given Biden a light touch.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), as ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, also got a peek at a copy of the record on Capitol Hill on Monday. At a press conference, he suggested that Comer had inflated the document’s importance, saying that it only showed what an FBI informant had heard someone else allege — “secondhand information.”
“If there’s a complaint, the complaint is with Attorney General William Barr, the Trump Justice Department and the team that the Trump administration appointed to look into it,” Raskin said.