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The Republican bait-and-bait approach to investigating Biden

At some point in the past few weeks, I began receiving an inordinate number of text messages encouraging me to support Republican causes and candidates, including from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), former Donald Trump attorney John Eastman and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). I am curious as to whether this was a change in approach by Republican fundraisers or an effort to troll me with spam personally, but that’s beside the point.

The point, instead, is that I received a pitch Monday evening encouraging me to contribute to House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.).

“40 FBI Informants. In the Biden Family. For 15 years,” the message read. “It’s Chairman Comer and you need to read this”: — followed by a link to a page exploring the theme.

A fundraising page, hosted by the site WinRed.

If you’ve visited one of these pages in the past, you are familiar with the aesthetic: a large photo of the candidate or beneficiary of the fundraising effort, with a thin column of text meant to engage you before you make your commitment.

In the case of the page from Comer, the text at left focused on this assertion about FBI informants.

“For 15 years, Credible Informants have been providing criminal information against the Biden’s to FBI Field Offices across the country,” it stated, typos included, “and for 15 years, everytime the information has been brought to FBI HQ, the leadership of the FBI shuts it down.”

And so on — Comer presents himself as a warrior for the truth, standing up to the media and the left-wing hordes, etc. Then the money ask appears.

Now, I track Comer and the Oversight Committee’s work more closely than most, so what struck me wasn’t that the chairman was trying to fundraise off what he was doing (he’s done that more than once in the past) but that he was trying to fundraise off this. After all, the allegation about the informants wasn’t something that came from his and his party’s efforts. The pitch couches that a bit, asserting in boldface text that “[i]t has come to light” that these informants purportedly existed. But there’s no news release about it from the normally news-release-enthusiastic House majority and no mention of it on Comer’s X/Twitter feed. The account for the Oversight Committee did mention it once, pointing back to the source of the claim: Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).

In May, Comer and Grassley jointly alleged that President Biden had been involved in a bribery scheme involving an unidentified foreign actor. After weeks of haranguing the FBI to release documentation of an interview in which an informant described being told about that allegation (and the FBI explaining both that it was wary of exposing its informant and that the claim was unverified), the pair simply made it public. No evidence corroborating the claim has emerged; evidence undercutting it is generally ignored.

This month, Grassley — who appears to have someone in the FBI sending him information — sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting information centered on the idea that the bureau (during and after President Donald Trump’s term in office) slow-walked an investigation into Biden. In the letter, Grassley makes the claim about the informants: “I’ve been made aware that at one point in time the FBI maintained over 40 Confidential Human Sources that provided criminal information relating to Joe Biden, James Biden, and Hunter Biden.” An accompanying news release offers little more detail.

That this is complicated is part of the point. Comer, Grassley and their allies have showered unproved allegations onto Biden and (mostly) his family with the (probably intentional) effect of contributing to a miasma of wrongdoing. And those allegations then become jumping-off points for vacuuming up the essential currencies of the political right: credulous Fox News articles or appearances and fundraising pitches.

That Comer is raising money off Grassley’s claim — raising money by exaggerating the claim to assert that there were 40 informants for 50 years — is the point. This wasn’t his work; it was simply an allegation that those who would respond to an “I’m fighting Biden for you” appeal would find compelling. I once referred to Comer’s efforts as a fishing expedition, but he’s not simply throwing out bait to see what he gets, he’s throwing out as much bait as he can to vacuum up as many fish as there are in the sea.

Earlier on Monday, Fox News host Jesse Watters chomped noisily on one of Comer’s offerings: the discovery that Joe Biden had received a documented payment of $200,000. From his brother. Identified on the check (and confirmed by his brother’s attorneys) as a repayment of a loan.

Skeptics of Comer’s probe, Watters fumed, “for years have said, ‘Well, you don’t have money going directly into Joe Biden’s bank account.’ All right, so now we have a check for $200,000 from one company through the brother to Joe’s bank account.” He loudly challenged one of his co-hosts on “The Five” to answer whether that — or, you know, a hypothetical, worse situation — finally met her standard of a “smoking gun.” She understandably seemed baffled.

Watters’s chain of events, highlighted by Comer, is accurate: James Biden had been paid $200,000 by a company called Americore Health, which operated hospitals for profit, mostly in rural areas. This payment was part of $600,000 James Biden received from the company, money that Americore ultimately sought to recoup after filing for bankruptcy.

Documents shared with The Washington Post indicate that Joe Biden had, in fact, transferred $200,000 to his brother on Jan. 12, 2018. The $200,000 payment to James Biden came on March 1; that same day, he wrote the check to his brother repaying the loan.

Maybe he wrote “loan repayment” on the check understanding that it would be useful as cover should his brother (in 2018, a private citizen) at some point regain elective office and need to explain this devious ploy to siphon money from Americore for Joe Biden’s personal use. Or maybe James Biden was repaying a loan.

But it’s easy to characterize this in nefarious terms, all the more so because Comer and Grassley and Fox News and the lot have spent so long insisting that Biden is crooked. It’s like Trump and election fraud: He keeps saying the election was stolen, so all sorts of things that very much aren’t evidence of that point are granted the default assumption that they are. Comer takes pixelated images of checks and well-edited videos claiming that Biden’s on the take, puts them on a hook and tosses it into the right-wing ecosystem.

Then he refreshes his WinRed page to see how much his 2024 reelection bid is bringing in.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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