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The casual falsehoods of the GOP’s impeachment inquiry leader

When Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) was censured by the House earlier this year, one of those who supported the motion was Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.).

Schiff was criticized by the Republican majority — which housed all the 213 votes in support of the measure — for allegedly spreading misinformation and taking advantage of his committee chairmanship, a position of “extreme trust.” It established a precedent that, given his own propensity for overhyping information, Comer might eventually come to regret.

On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee chairman appeared on Newsmax for an interview about his committee’s efforts to evaluate the business activity of President Biden’s son, Hunter, and any possible connection to the president himself. Over the course of the interview, Comer made a number of claims that were unsupported by publicly available evidence, contradicted by other parties or obviously false.

The predicate for the discussion was the announcement by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Tuesday that he was authorizing an impeachment inquiry targeting Biden. Comer’s committee will help take the lead on the probe, prompting Newsmax host Rob Finnerty to ask for an update on what is likely to come next.

“Well, we’re headed to court more than likely,” Comer replied. “We’ve requested bank records from Hunter Biden and [the president’s brother] Jim Biden early on, and obviously we never got a response back. We will re-request those this week.”

A few hours later, Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden’s attorney, sent a letter to Comer challenging that claim. According to Lowell, Comer wrote to Hunter Biden in early February seeking information. Lowell replied the following day, offering, in Lowell’s telling, “to sit with you and your staff, including the ranking member and his staff, to see whether Mr. Biden has information that may inform some legitimate legislative purpose and be helpful to the Committee.”

“You never responded to that offer,” Lowell continued. In a statement given to Politico, a spokesperson for the Oversight Committee said that Lowell was “splitting hairs” and that “Hunter Biden has not provided these documents and communications.”

On Newsmax, Comer predicted that the issue would end up in court. Then he continued:

“We’ve already made the case that his family’s taking in over $20 million from some bad people in some bad countries that are adversarial to the United States,” he said. “And we don’t know why. Joe Biden never has come out and said exactly what his family did to earn one penny of that $21 million.”

The Washington Post’s fact-checking team assessed the claim about the “$20 million,” determining that less than $8 million went to anyone in Biden’s family, largely Hunter Biden. The assessment of the partners as “bad people” in “bad countries” is subjective, certainly; for what it’s worth, at least some of the money came from a Ukrainian company.

Comer and his allies have for some time leaned into this idea that Hunter Biden’s work was nebulous. It’s doubly useful, implying both that he was just handed money for some other reason and as a way to differentiate his efforts from the international dealmaking of Donald Trump’s family. But Comer has heard what Hunter Biden did in at least one case. His former business partner Devon Archer testified that Hunter Biden, then with the D.C. firm Boies Schiller, was originally hired by Ukrainian energy company Burisma to serve as counsel before joining the board.

In an email to Archer, Biden wrote that he believed the pair “could actually be of real value here: Developing relationships, bringing US expertise to the company, supplying strategic advice on politics and geopolitical risk asses[s]ment.” This is not building branded hotels, certainly, but it’s not unknown.

On Newsmax, Comer then mentioned two messages in which payments to Joe Biden were raised in vague terms. The Oversight chairman probably assumed, with justification, that viewers would be familiar with the references, though it remains unclear how significant they might be.

The host then asked Comer why he didn’t simply subpoena Hunter Biden to testify.

“Hunter Biden is more than welcome to come in front of the committee if he wants to clear his good name,” Comer said during his reply. “If he wants to come and say, you know, these weren’t 20 shell companies, they actually did something.”

This, too, has been explained. Comer and other Biden critics like to call a number of corporate entities created by Hunter Biden and his partners “shell companies,” mostly because it sounds sketchy. But The Post evaluated those corporations and determined that most — though not all — had obvious legitimate purposes.

The host and Comer went back and forth on the utility of issuing a subpoena to Hunter Biden. Eventually, Comer shifted back to the president.

“What we found in the last few weeks is [Hunter Biden] was communicating back and forth with the government about Ukrainian policy,” he said, “which is a huge problem for Joe Biden.”

It’s not clear to what Comer is referring. It might be the allegation he made on Newsmax last month that Joe Biden was sending his son coded tips, an allegation that The Post completely debunked. It’s more likely that he’s referring to an exchange between a Biden associate and a communications staffer for the then-vice president about how each planned to respond to reporters’ questions about Hunter Biden’s Ukraine work. Categorizing that as Hunter Biden talking to the government about policy is, to say the least, a stretch.

Detailing all of this might seem tedious or nitpicky, certainly, particularly given that similar allegations are made by others with regularity. But — as Comer indicated with his vote targeting Schiff — it is important that elected leaders make honest representations of what they’ve learned and not falsely characterize their opponents.

It is fair to question Hunter Biden’s business activity and evaluate any connection to the president. One would hope, though, that the results of those evaluations would be presented accurately — including exculpatory findings, such as Archer’s insistences that Joe Biden wasn’t involved in their business efforts.

It might make for a less popular Newsmax appearance, but so be it.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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