How James Comer keeps the Biden impeachment dream alive

If you have not been paying attention to the effort by House Republicans to build a case for impeaching President Biden, here is a quick recap.

The impeachment inquiry was announced in September as then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was fending off pressure from his conference’s right-most flank. By that point, Republicans had been in control of House committees for more than eight months, during which time they were already attempting to show that Joe Biden was corruptly involved in his son Hunter’s and brother Jim’s business efforts. They’d had no luck; multiple people involved with Hunter Biden’s and Jim Biden’s work had explicitly denied that the president was involved.

Last May, before the formal inquiry was underway, House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) joined Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in elevating an accusation of bribery against President and Hunter Biden. There was no evidence for the claim and some evidence against it; last month, the person who made the accusation was charged by the Justice Department with lying about it.

But most of the effort led by Comer focused on trying to show that Joe Biden was involved in his son’s business. Last week, Hunter Biden himself testified behind closed doors and, according to a transcript, deflected the allegations one by one. Comer’s entirely circumstantial case withered even further.

This is a problem. Republicans and Comer in particular have convinced Republican voters that their investigation has been successful and found real problems. But they haven’t, as numerous members of Congress have pointed out, meaning that the chances of actually impeaching Biden are withering, too.

So Comer is doing what is done when a hustle is collapsing: He’s doubling down.

On Wednesday night, he appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show to reassure Fox viewers that all was well with the effort to hold the president to account. (It is not surprising that Hannity should host such an effort; he was an early investor in this political pyramid scheme and he’s as eager as anyone to keep it moving forward.) His argument? Hunter Biden slipped up, and Republicans are ready to pounce.

Hannity began by asking Comer how the Hunter Biden deposition went.

“We asked a lot of questions in that first hour,” Comer said, “substantive questions about specific transactions with some of these shady LLCs that the president’s son had, and we got him on record.”

Republicans did ask Hunter Biden about several transactions, as you can see from the transcript. Several of them, Biden pointed out, involved corporate entities (LLCs) that weren’t his. At no point did the questioning demonstrably reveal wrongdoing by Hunter Biden, much less his father.

Notice how Comer frames the discussion though: He asked about the “shady LLCs.” He’s begging the question. As The Washington Post’s Fact Checker wrote in August (before the impeachment inquiry began, mind you), those LLCs weren’t actually “shady” in the first place.

Comer spent a moment disparaging the questioning from Democrats before continuing.

“What we found was, his answers, believe it or not, Sean, are very different from what his associates’ answers were when asked the same question,” he said, “and the questions revolving around Joe Biden’s involvement.”

It is the case that investigators have spoken with former associates who have criticized Hunter Biden and his work, claims that Biden rejected. But Comer didn’t articulate what these discrepancies were, instead using it as a rationale to advocate for a public hearing involving Hunter Biden and those other people.

Comer said he’d advocate for such a hearing soon after the Hunter Biden deposition, a shift from his past comments about finding public hearings unhelpful. (One held in September didn’t go well for Comer and his allies.) This is one part of the escalation: Oh, you think Hunter Biden rebuffed our efforts? Wrong! Now we’re taking things up a notch!

Have you seen the episode of “Seinfeld” in which George Costanza tries to convince his late fiancée’s parents that he has a house out on Long Island? We are at the stage of the impeachment effort where Comer is making up the name of the horses waiting for Fox News viewers out in Montauk.

Hannity told Comer that he’d heard there was talk of issuing criminal referrals to the Justice Department, the legislative equivalent of calling the cops. Comer eagerly confirmed the reports.

“We found a lot of wrongdoing. We found a lot of criminal activity involved — multiple people involved in these schemes,” he said. “So we’re going to do what we can to hold them accountable.”

We will see what constitutes this criminal activity once the referrals are issued, apparently. At the moment, it’s not clear what Comer is referring to, beyond things for which Hunter Biden has already been charged. But again the escalation: Just wait until you see how spacious this beachside cottage is on the inside!

“If Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice won’t take any potential criminal referrals seriously,” Comer continued, “then maybe the next president, with a new attorney general, will.”

There’s a giveaway, as when Comer went on to decry the “two-tier system of justice” in America, a line that Donald Trump uses regularly. This is inextricably linked to Trump and the 2024 election. It offers an extra bit of cover, too. If the Justice Department thinks the referrals are loopy, it’s because of the department, not Comer.

Which brings us to the most telling part of Comer’s discussion with Hannity: his declaration that people within the government also needed to be held accountable.

“Look, the Bidens have been investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, by the IRS, by the FBI, by multiple U.S. attorneys in multiple districts within the Department of Justice,” he complained. “But yet nothing ever happened.”

Well, again, Hunter Biden has been indicted more than once and the only known investigation into his father — the one dealing with classified documents — resulted solely in a political punishment.

An outside observer, though, might look at this from the other direction. So you’re saying that multiple investigatory agencies and officials probed the work of Hunter and James Biden and didn’t obtain an indictment? But that a piecemeal probe led by partisan actors who telegraphed their belief in Joe Biden’s culpability in late 2022 and that had a major investigatory thread derailed when it turned out that the person making an accusation had allegedly invented it, this probe succeeded in identifying crimes that the government investigators missed?

Okay. And when we get to the cottage, we’ll take Prickly Pete out for a trot along the beach.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post