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The right once again gins up a baseless claim of intimidation

Earlier this month, there was a brief flurry of agitation on the right over what was presented as an effort to silence testimony from someone with information damaging to President Biden. The Justice Department unsealed an indictment against a man named Gal Luft, who, the government claims, had aided Chinese government interests and worked to evade sanctions on Iran as he served as a director at a D.C.-area think tank. Luft had previously been identified as a potential anti-Biden witness by House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.).

It’s not clear what evidence Luft was prepared to offer against Biden and his son Hunter, though New York Post columnist Miranda Devine, reporting about a videotaped statement from Luft, didn’t find much that was new. But still: Here was a potential witness against the government, facing criminal charges! Weaponization of the legal system … just like they’ve been doing to Donald Trump!

As you may by now be aware, this wasn’t actually the story. The Justice Department unsealed the charges this month, but the indictment had been handed down in November. Luft’s claims about Biden came to the attention of Comer and Devine, it seems, only after he’d been arrested on those charges earlier this year and began claiming that he was being targeted because of what he knew.

The argument from Comer and his allies was either misinformed or dishonest. But they appear not to have internalized any lessons from it.

On Sunday, Devine had a new report: In a letter, Devine said, the Justice Department was trying to imprison Hunter Biden’s former business partner, Devon Archer, before he could offer testimony to Comer’s committee on Monday.

“The DOJ is trying to arrest Devon Archer ahead of his bombshell testimony Monday about Joe Biden’s involvement in his son Hunter’s Ukraine business when he was VP,” Devine wrote on social media. The letter, she claimed, sought to send Archer “to jail immediately.”

Comer dutifully showed up on Maria Bartiromo’s Sunday morning Fox News show, where the host asked him about the letter. (Bartiromo, like Devine, is often at the center of these discussions. It was to Bartiromo that Comer had in May admitted losing track of a witness — a witness who turned out to be Gal Luft and who had gone missing because he skipped bail on the charges that Comer earlier this month pretended were new.)

“The letter from the Department of Justice is trying to nudge the judge to go ahead and sentence Devon Archer for something unrelated than what we’re going to be talking to him about tomorrow,” Comer told Bartiromo. “It’s odd that it was issued on a Saturday and it’s odd that it’s right before he’s scheduled to come in to have an opportunity to speak in front of the House Oversight Committee and tell the American people the truth about what really went on with Burisma.” Burisma is a Ukrainian energy company that is at the center of a different allegation against the president and Hunter Biden from Comer and his allies.

“So I don’t know if this is a coincidence, Maria, or if this is another example of the weaponization of the Department of Justice,” he continued. “But I can tell you this: The lengths to which the Biden legal team has gone to try to intimidate our witnesses, to coordinate with the Department of Justice and to certainly coordinate with the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee to encourage people not to cooperate with our investigation … [is] very troubling, and I believe that this is another violation of the law, this is obstruction of justice.”

It is not.

Archer was a business partner of Hunter Biden’s for years. In 2016, while Joe Biden was vice president, Archer and a number of other individuals were indicted on charges they defrauded members of a Native American tribe. They were found guilty in 2018, and this past February Archer was sentenced to a year in prison.

Archer appealed the decision. A federal appellate court in New York declined to hear the final iteration of Archer’s appeal earlier this month, informing the judge overseeing his case last week. A few days later, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams sent the judge his letter … a letter in which there is no demand that Archer be arrested or immediately imprisoned.

As Archer’s attorney was aware.

“We are aware of speculation that the Department of Justice’s weekend request to have Mr. Archer report to prison is an attempt by the Biden administration to intimidate him in advance of his meeting with the House Oversight Committee,” Archer’s attorney told Politico in a statement on Sunday. “To be clear, Mr. Archer does not agree with that speculation.” Archer would testify before Oversight as planned, he added.

The brouhaha prompted Williams to send a second letter, in which his eye-rolling was almost audible.

“As the Court knows, to surrender and commence his sentence of imprisonment, the defendant first must be designated to a federal facility by the Bureau of Prisons — a process that can take several weeks or months after the Court sets a surrender date,” he wrote. “Nonetheless, for the avoidance of all doubt, the Government requests that any surrender date, should the Court order one, be scheduled to occur after the defendant’s Congressional testimony is completed.”

Predictably, this second letter, obviously meant to kneecap the sort of rhetoric that Comer was offering on Fox News, was itself framed by House Republicans as somehow proof that the Justice Department had been caught red-handed. A number of GOP lawmakers, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) — who insisted that the Justice Department was “actively committing the crime of obstructing a congressional investigation” — pledged on social media to begin “immediate emergency hearings on the DOJ’s interference with Congressional Oversight.”

This is the point. Donald Trump has framed the Justice Department as irrationally hostile to him since shortly after he won the 2016 election, a useful indoctrination for his supporters once his actions led to criminal charges. Claiming that the Justice Department has been “weaponized” against the right has shrunk the barrier toward acceptance of any conspiracy theories in that vein to near zero. Devine’s writing often mines the idea. Comer and his allies deploy it to generate attention with Trump supporters. Bartiromo gives the politics a platform. And all of it is in service of elevating the idea that Archer’s testimony is necessarily damning — and therefore whatever he ends up saying is therefore imbued with added weight.

On Monday, after the second letter from Williams and after widespread debunking of Devine’s original claim, the New York Post put a variation of her conspiracy theory on its front page. In the cover story, first published late Sunday night, Devine wrote that the situation is “another example of a DOJ gone astray.”

It is, in fact, not obviously the Justice Department that has gone astray.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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