James Comer is making it hard to take him seriously

Extreme partisanship, muddled messages mar what could be Kentuckian’s moment

June 8, 2023 5:50 am

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Kentucky, walks to reporters after attending an FBI briefing in the House Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility at the U.S. Capitol on June 5, 2023 in Washington, D.C. The chairman and ranking member of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee attended the briefing to review documents pertaining to an allegation that U.S. President Joe Biden accepted a bribe as vice president from a foreign national. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Kentucky Congressman James Comer has had so many embarrassing media interviews about his House Oversight Committee’s investigation into the so-called “Biden crime family.” 

He outlines an elaborate international bribery scheme yet admits he doesn’t have the facts to back it up. He calls out “suspicious activities” but acknowledges they may not be crimes. His informants and whistleblowers suddenly disappear. And he gleefully credits the committee’s work for boosting Donald Trump’s poll numbers, then says he wasn’t referring to Trump at all.

Even conservative media have become frustrated with his muddled pronouncements and lack of real progress. Fox News host Steve Doocy last month challenged his allegation of President Biden influence peddling while vice president. 

“You don’t actually have any facts to that point,” Doocy told him. “There’s no evidence that Joe Biden did anything illegally.”

So, this week Comer threw a hissy fit over old hearsay about Biden and threatened “contempt of Congress” charges against FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee.

But Comer wanted the document to wave around and publicize. His contempt threat lost steam when the House abruptly adjourned Wednesday over an unrelated GOP debate. Comer then accepted Wray’s offer for other committee members to read the document.

The allegation, promoted in 2017 by Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani, says Biden’s push to oust a top Ukrainian official was to protect the energy firm where son, Hunter, was on the board. The rumor was a foundation of Trump’s first impeachment; in exchange for U.S. military aid, he wanted Biden exposed.

Three years ago, a reliable FBI source passed on the same secondhand tip. Trump Attorney General William Barr had prosecutors investigate but found no validation. Biden’s actions were part of an international campaign to remove an official who refused to prosecute corruption.

Yet Comer demands the FBI turn over the form documenting the hearsay. The agency, which does not release unverified tips, wants to protect its source. Comer turned down an offer to review the document at agency headquarters. So, Wray brought the document to Comer and committee vice chair Jamie Raskin and gave them a briefing. But Comer wants the document to wave around and publicize.

“Given the severity and complexity of the allegations contained within this record, Congress must investigate further,” he said. “The investigation is not dead. This is only the beginning.”

It certainly presents a new chance to portray Comer as a righteous warrior, not a bumbler. 

If the charges are endorsed by the committee and full House, it’s unlikely the Justice Department will penalize the FBI. Yet there is real danger in attacks on the agency at a time of heightened domestic terrorism. 

Right-wing lawmakers and conspiracy thinkers now insist the Jan. 6 insurrection and recent gatherings of white supremacists are FBI false-flag operations. And there is a possibility Trump soon could be indicted for trying to overturn the 2020 election and for refusing to return classified documents after he left office.

Now, if Biden did something illegal, it must be exposed. He insists he was not connected to his family members’ businesses. A 36-page report released last month by Republicans on Comer’s committee reported that $10 million flowed from foreign entities to Biden family members, associates and companies during Biden’s eight years as vice president and four years out of office. It showed no money to Biden

Despite Comer’s insistence that the report indicates money laundering, it is based on routine banking notifications of any transaction of $10,000 or more. Banks do not investigate whether the transactions are illegal.

Government rules don’t mandate that politicians’ family members make their business dealings public. However, the White House or the Biden campaign should consider offering more transparency to tamp down suspicions of conspiracies.

Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine, Romania and China have already been reported. He is being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware. Media reports indicate he could face charges for unpaid taxes and lying about drug use when buying a gun.

We also need to know more about Trump and his children’s business dealings, especially daughter Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner, who worked in the White House. She received at least 16 trademarks from China close to the time Trump lifted the ban on a major Chinese company for violating U.S. sanctions. 

Kushner got a $2 billion business deal with Saudi Arabia and the former president partnered with the country to set up an international golf circuit that has now merged with the PGA Tournament.

Recent news reports about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife accepting unreported gifts and trips from a billionaire show how few rules exist to prevent government officials and families from profiting from their connections.

Bipartisan oversight, along with new regulations, would be welcome work for Comer’s committee. Unfortunately, he has tainted himself and the committee with the veneer of extreme partisanship.

For Comer to be taken seriously, he must focus on gathering facts and connecting dots to present a true, clear picture. The smooth professionalism of the House investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection provides an excellent example. 

Until he can deliver that, it would be wise for him to cut back on his camera time. Too many people aiming for media exposure just end up being seen as jokes.

This column has been updated with new information.

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Vanessa Gallman
Vanessa Gallman

Vanessa Gallman, a Kentucky Lantern freelance columnist, worked for more than two decades as editorial page editor for the Lexington Herald-Leader. She was also a local government editor for The Washington Post and a national correspondent for Knight-Ridder Inc.