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James Comer’s Impeachment ‘Bombshells’ Keep Fizzling
Plus: A new book combining sports and military history.
Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass, The Bulwark’s twice-weekly newsletter on Congress, campaigns, and the way Washington works. Christmas is around the corner and Hanukkah is even closer, so consider giving a gift membership to Bulwark+ to a loved one or even yourself. It’s this season’s hottest gift.
Today’s edition examines the recent accusations made by House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, who continues to stretch himself mightily in the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. I also have a book recommendation for Press Pass readers. All that and more, below.
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The House is back to regular business, and that means more censure resolutions and not a lot of anything else. The impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden has also picked back up. In case you didn’t see the headlines, the House Oversight Committee released two “bombshells” in recent weeks. Some Republicans and conservative media outlets have happily parroted the postulations as proof of perfidy.
The two info drops included copies of checks for direct payments to Biden: one for $40,000 in 2017 and another for $200,000 in 2018. In a video about the former sum, Comer suggested that money Hunter Biden made from a Chinese energy company ended up, after many months and numerous intermediate transactions, in his father’s bank account. A graphic overlay accompanying the video tells an even simpler story: The flag of Communist China appears next to an image of President Biden, with an arrow between them indicating “$40k” moving from one to the other. Comer’s insinuation is obvious: The Chinese Communist Party is padding Biden’s pockets:
Summarizing the allegations, Comer declared that in accepting the $40,000, Biden “exposed himself to future blackmail and put America’s interests behind his own desire for money.”
But this story is not as simple as Comer would like everyone to believe—a line of falling dominoes of guilt and wrongdoing. He leans on a great deal of innuendo and creative storytelling to get all the parts of his allegation to line up, and he also conflates legal influence peddling with illicit quid pro quo. Let’s break it down into simple terms.
Each check to Biden from his brother James Biden clearly states in the memo line they were loan repayments. James and Sara Biden have not been particularly good with their money. According to a memo released by Comer’s own staff, in August 2017, the couple had just $46.88 in their personal bank account. At the same time, Joe and Jill Biden were rolling in the post-vice-presidency dough to the tune of about $15 million, which they earned from publishing deals and various speaking engagements during the early years of the Donald Trump administration. (This is all attested in tax records Biden released upon running for president.1) It makes sense that Biden would lend some money to his brother during a tough stretch. Even Comer admits “it’s certainly plausible” that each check “was indeed a loan repayment to Joe.”
A risky gamble
Further, both transactions occurred in 2017 and 2018, when Biden was neither in office nor a candidate for office. If the executives at the Chinese energy company who approved the transfers of money to Hunter Biden assumed that Joe Biden would eventually find a way to repay the favor—which, again, there’s no evidence he even spoke with them—they would also have needed to believe that Biden would a) run for president, b) win the Democratic nomination, and c) defeat an incumbent president—one who had still not yet been impeached, whose party presided over both chambers of Congress, and who was sitting on an economy pumping like a piston. (The pandemic was still years away at that point.) Biden ended up doing all these things, of course, but at the time of the 2017 transactions, this gamble would’ve been almost as risky as putting money on the Generals to beat the Globetrotters.
A long way from a smoking gun
In sum, these payments from James Biden to Joe Biden aren’t evidence to impeach. Any impartial observer of the facts would agree, both because of when the transactions took place and the fact that the checks were clearly repayments of zero-interest loans. If they were truly a smoking gun, even if only in Republican eyes, that would be it: The House would be swiftly moving on formal impeachment charges for Biden. But that isn’t happening, because the evidence for an impeachment just isn’t there.
“I don’t know that I want to hold any more hearings, to be honest with you,” Comer told reporters last month.
The impeachment hearings were intended to create a spectacle. But when the accusers show up empty-handed, they become the spectacle, magnifying their internal problems and partisan motivations. At the first hearing, even the Republicans’ own witnesses dismissed the inquiry as impetuous.
Still, many House Republicans are eager to impeach Biden, including the new speaker, Mike Johnson. “I do believe that very soon we are coming to a point of decision on it,” he said last week, adding:
I have been very consistent, intellectually consistent in this, and persistent that we have to follow due process, and we have to follow the law. That means following our obligation on the Constitution and doing appropriate investigations in the right way at the right pace, so that the evidence comes in, and we follow the evidence where it leads. You follow the truth where it leads.
Johnson’s claims of commitment to due process and having sufficient evidence don’t square with the accusations flying from the Oversight Committee, the overheated comments of many in his own conference, and the demands of Trump, who just wants retribution.
This sounds familiar
One last thought about the impeachment mess: It is interesting to note the similarities between Comer’s largely unsupported accusations about the Bidens and the well-documented allegations of malfeasance against some of Trump’s own family members.
For instance, in 2017, Ivanka Trump secured Chinese trademarks on the same day her father met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. There’s also the case of Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, whose private equity firm secured a $2 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund six months after his father-in-law departed the White House. Unlike Hunter Biden, both Kushner and Ivanka Trump worked in the White House. However, the Oversight Committee in its current form has shown no interest in probing these deals.
A book recommendation
I recently received a copy of Martin Pengelly’s new book, Brotherhood: When West Point Rugby Went to War, and wanted to recommend it to all of our readers at The Bulwark.
Pengelly, a reporter for the Guardian, details the lives of the U.S. Military Academy’s rugby players from the class of 2002. It recounts where the individual players deployed, who fought and who didn’t, and how some of their lives ended tragically. The foreword is written by retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
I played rugby at Arizona State University more than a decade ago, and I find this period of U.S. military history both fascinating and critically underwritten about, especially when it comes to the courageous individuals who chose to serve. Needless to say, the book grabbed my interest, and it didn’t let go.
Even if you’re not familiar with rugby and how it's played, Brotherhood will help you quickly understand how relevant the camaraderie and structure of the sport are to the most important parts of life. The book is out now, so pick up a copy through Amazon or at your local bookstore.
Big speaking fees are grotesque, and a lot of the time, they are a big waste of money for the company paying to hear from the famous person, but they aren’t illegal.