House Republicans are escalating their standoff with the FBI over an unreleased document they say ties then-Vice President Joe Biden to a “bribery scheme,” but has links to a Trump-era inquiry that ended with no apparent further action.
The Oversight Committee will vote Thursday on holding FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt of Congress over the bureau’s decision not to give lawmakers a copy of the document, Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) said Monday after a closed-door meeting with FBI officials.
“At the briefing, the FBI again refused to hand over the unclassified record to the custody of the House Oversight Committee,” Comer said. “Given the severity and the complexity of the allegations contained within this record, Congress must investigate further.”
A committee contempt vote would significantly ramp up House Republicans’ conflict with the FBI, which has faced major flak since the GOP took the majority, given the years-long conflict between the two entities. In addition, such a move would signal a new phase of Comer’s investigation into Biden’s affairs, where Republicans hope to find an elusive direct link between the president’s decision-making and payments his family members received.
The FBI, in a statement, called the decision to move forward with a vote “unwarranted,” adding that the bureau “has continually demonstrated its commitment to accommodate the committee’s request, including by producing the document in a reading room at the U.S. Capitol.”
Republicans control the oversight panel, meaning they can advance the contempt resolution as long as most of their members stay united. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has vowed to bring it up on the floor. But even if the entire House GOP finds Wray in contempt, it’s highly unlikely that Biden’s Justice Department would exercise its power to bring any criminal charges.
Even as Republicans move forward with a historic contempt vote — no FBI director has faced a congressional contempt vote in at least four decades — they are offering few new specifics on the details of the allegation contained in the Biden document. In addition to a briefing with FBI officials, Comer and Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, the panel’s top Democrat, reviewed the document on Monday.
Comer said Monday that the document “has not been disproven” and that it fits within the frame of his larger probe, which has focused on payments Biden family members received from a network of companies and foreign governments.
But Comer did not respond to questions about what country is involved in the document’s charge or if it relates to Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company where First Son Hunter Biden served on the board. That company has been at the center of the GOP’s years-long broader Biden family focus.
“We feel that this accusation is consistent with a pattern that we’re seeing, frankly, in other countries,” Comer said.
But Raskin, the panel’s top Democrat who attended the briefing with Comer, said FBI officials told both of them that the document was vetted by the Trump-era DOJ by then-U.S. attorney Scott Brady. At the time, Brady was tasked with vetting information from then-President Donald Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
“We now know what I had long suspected: that Chairman Comer’s subpoena is about recycling stale and debunked Burisma conspiracy theories long peddled by Rudy Giuliani and a Russian agent, sanctioned by former President Trump’s own Treasury Department, as part of the effort to smear President Biden and help Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign,” Raskin said in a statement.
He added that the form details conversations the source had with individuals in Ukraine, but also allegations that the individual told the FBI “he could not provide any opinion on the underlying veracity of the information provided by these Ukrainian individuals.”
Both Raskin and GOP Oversight Committee staff said that the document at the center of the contempt fight was created when the informant was reinterviewed in June 2020 as DOJ and FBI officials searched for existing information related to the inquiry.
The FBI told lawmakers privately on Monday that the Brady inquiry was wrapped in August 2020. But Republicans said they have additional questions about what the broader assessment included, and what investigative steps were taken in regard to the June 2020 document specifically.
House Republicans also believe, based on the details of the June 2020 document, that there are additional FBI documents related to the claims. A GOP Oversight staffer, granted anonymity to speak candidly, distanced the panel’s probe from the Giuliani effort, noting that the “Giuliani name doesn’t appear in the document at all.”
The seeds of the Wray contempt fight were planted in early May when Comer and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that the FBI had material outlining “an alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions.”
Comer simultaneously subpoenaed the FBI to compel the bureau to hand over any so-called FD-1023 forms — the formal term for records that describe conversations with a confidential human source — from June 2020 that contain the word “Biden.”
The forms themselves, regardless of their content, do not independently amount to evidence of wrongdoing. Comer has seen the document at issue but does not have it in his possession.
Comer also told the bureau late last month that it could narrow the search date to June 30, 2020, and add the search term “five million.” That number, the Republican said, was a “reference to the amount of money the foreign national allegedly paid to receive the desired policy outcome.”
Comer and Grassley initially offered scant details about the identity of the “highly credible” whistleblower who made them aware of the document, or how that person would have knowledge of the FBI document detailing a conversation with a confidential source.
But Comer colored in a few details after Monday’s briefing, saying that the FBI called the informant behind the document “trusted and highly credible,” adding that the person was paid six figures by the bureau and has a relationship with the FBI dating back to the Obama years. Comer said that it appears the document is currently being used in an “ongoing investigation,” one that he assumed was the years-long federal probe involving Hunter Biden.
Republicans have said they want to publicly release the document if the FBI gives it to the committee. The bureau has countered that revealing unverified information could have a potential range of negative consequences – including harming active investigations or informants, as well as affecting prosecutions or court cases.
And the FBI has warned that the forms are used to “record unverified reporting by a confidential human source” and that “documenting the information does not validate it, establish its credibility, or weigh it against other information verified by the FBI.”
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