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So where’s the bribe, James Comer?

It has now been more than three months since House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) issued a release in which they accused President Biden of having been “allegedly engaged in a bribery scheme with a foreign national.”

That allegation was based on an FBI interview of an informant who had spoken with Mykola Zlochevsky, founder of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. If validated, it would mark not only a significant legal violation on the part of Biden, but the first time that Comer’s breathless efforts to tie Biden to foreign payments was actually demonstrated.

It was not validated. Comer and Grassley — who were already familiar with an FBI form detailing the contents of the interview — spent a few weeks demanding that the FBI release the interview to the public. The FBI, concerned both about putting the informant at risk and about making public unsubstantiated claims, decided to offer a redacted version of the memo for legislators to see. Comer and Grassley then started complaining about the redactions as they demanded more people be able to see the interview. Eventually, Grassley just went ahead and released a lightly redacted version on social media.

The idea that Biden (and his son Hunter Biden, who served on Burisma’s board) had been bribed took hold as an article of faith on the right. Fox News has mentioned “bribe” or “bribery” in the context of “Biden” more than 1,100 times since the allegation was first made — despite the lack of evidence beyond that FBI interview document and despite the erosion of the credibility of the allegation in at least two ways. Hunter Biden’s business associate Devon Archer testified under penalty of perjury that Joe Biden wasn’t involved in his son’s business. Meanwhile, an old conversation between Zlochevsky and an ally of former president Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was unearthed in which Zlochevsky denied having any contact with or receiving any assistance from Joe Biden.

On Wednesday, Comer released a new assessment of payments made to Hunter Biden, Archer and others while Biden and Archer were in business together. In testimony given to the Oversight Committee last week, Archer explained that their work centered on raising money and making connections in Washington, D.C. — but that while Hunter Biden encouraged people to think that he was bringing his father’s clout into play, Joe Biden was not actually engaged in their work. The new articulation of the money that was paid to Biden and Archer reflects that; none of the $20 million that Comer claims went to “the Biden family and their business associates” — an intentionally loose description of the recipients — was shown to have gone to Joe Biden.

That’s unquestionably an ongoing challenge for Comer’s efforts to impugn President Biden with his son’s business activity. In the abstract, anyway; Comer’s ideological allies are eager to collapse Hunter Biden’s income (and even Archer’s) into a broader pool of “money to the Bidens” in which Joe Biden is somehow implicated. But the lack of payments made to the president is even more problematic for the Comer-Grassley claim about bribes. After three months, a period that clearly included more assessments of income received by Hunter Biden (though a lot of the $20 million was already reported), there’s not a whiff of the alleged $5 million paid to Joe Biden by Zlochevsky. It’s less than a phantom.

There’s no alleged bribe to Hunter Biden, either. The new report from Comer delineates regular payments to Hunter Biden and Archer in 2014 and 2015 totaling about $3.3 million. The document points at whistleblower testimony claiming that the pair earned $6.5 million from Burisma. That’s not $5 million for Hunter Biden — and it’s not obviously a “bribe.” The pair sat on the company’s board and, according to Archer’s testimony, did board-related work for Burisma, however obviously derived from Hunter Biden’s last name their work might have been.

Defenders of the Comer-Grassley allegation have often pointed to a comment buried in the initial FBI interview document. Speaking to the informant, Zlochevsky allegedly said he never paid money directly to Joe Biden and that it would take investigators “ten years” to disentangle and identify records of the payments. This has been highlighted to suggest that future digging might turn up such payments. And they might! But this might also have been part of what the informant identified as a tendency in the region for business executives to brag — as Zlochevsky may have been doing about his purported connections and savvy.

While Republicans and their media allies have often conflated the FBI’s confidence in the informant with reliability of the information the informant provided, the FBI report also indicates that the informant couldn’t attest to the veracity of what Zlochevsky said. What’s more, the claim was investigated by the FBI when it was first received in 2020, during the Trump administration. There does not appear to have been a separate investigation of the bribery claim or of Joe Biden’s role. An investigation of Hunter Biden resulted in tax and gun charges and, perhaps, nothing further.

The report from Comer published on Wednesday does mention bribery in remarkably vague terms.

“President Biden’s Family is the Vehicle to Receive Bribery Payments,” one section is titled.

“President Biden’s defenders purport a weak defense by asserting the Committee must show payments directly to the President to show corruption,” it reads. “This is a hollow claim no other American would be afforded if their family members accepted foreign payments or bribes. Indeed, the law recognizes payments to family members to corruptly influence others can constitute a bribe.”

The reference to “the law” points to a document outlining the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). It offers examples of family members receiving payments, gifts and jobs in exchange for having work steered to their benefactors. What Comer’s evidence shows, though, so far extends no further than Hunter Biden giving the impression that he might be able to influence his father. The other half of the FCPA equation cited by Comer is simply missing.

Speaking on Fox News last month, Comer and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) implied that the alleged bribe was paid so that Biden, then vice president, would push for the firing of Ukraine’s prosecutor general. This has been debunked repeatedly, for nearly four years. The timeline presented on Fox didn’t match actual events, and Archer had testified that the eventual firing was understood to be detrimental to Burisma, not beneficial.

But it’s all Comer’s got. His team tried to dig up this bribe that they have convinced their allies exists, without luck. So he issues a news release about the “Biden family” and suggests that bribery claims don’t need actual proof and prepares for his next Sean Hannity interview.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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