What if James Comer is getting it backward?
There are a number of outstanding questions related to Hunter Biden’s private-sector work, the answers to which have either nonexistent or severe political implications for his father, President Biden. At the less important end of the spectrum are questions about the scale of Hunter Biden’s personal work and ways in which he leveraged his last name in his legal or consulting work. Somewhere in the middle is the question of how much awareness Joe Biden had about the way in which his son was deploying his last name and perceptions of influence over his powerful father.
And at the most important end are questions about whether Joe Biden was intentionally involved in boosting his son’s business for his own financial benefit. As it stands, there is plenty of information addressing the less important questions and very little evidence pointing at those most important ones. So Biden’s critics, including House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), often conflate the two.
Hunter Biden’s work earns benefits accrued to “the Biden family,” a bit of wordplay meant to implicate Joe Biden in what his son did, even without any financial connection being made. (There is some irony in how both Comer and Hunter Biden have sought benefit in implying Joe Biden’s undemonstrated involvement.) Of course, Comer often goes further, explicitly claiming that Biden was explicitly involved and benefited, though he has offered no robust evidence to that effect.
Comer’s central challenge is that his eagerness to make the case against Biden often trips him up, deteriorating his credibility as he levels severe allegations against the president. Just this week, The Washington Post fact-checker dismantled his assertion that email messages sent to Hunter Biden from a pseudonymous government account were evidence of the elder Biden’s involvement in his son’s business.
Earlier this summer, Comer suggested that Joe Biden took a trip to Ukraine in late 2015 after being cajoled by his son, but the trip was scheduled weeks before the call in which that cajoling purportedly occurred. That call is back in the mix as Comer picks up a new line of attack. The only problem is that, once again, the new information may actually weaken his past rhetoric.
In July, House Republicans deposed Hunter Biden’s former business partner Devon Archer. They focused heavily on Dec. 4, 2015, on which date the Ukrainian energy company Burisma held a dinner for its board members in Dubai, a group that included Hunter Biden and Archer. Archer testified that, after the dinner, he and Hunter Biden went to the hotel where Hunter Biden was staying. Two Burisma representatives and a manager at the hotel eventually joined them for coffee, including Burisma founder Mykola Zlochevsky.
Archer testified that the Burisma executives were seeking Biden’s assistance. “The request was I think they were getting pressure and they requested Hunter, you know, help them with some of that pressure,” he testified. He said pressure was “kind of a theme” for the company. Hunter Biden and the Burisma executives called Washington. This was the call that Comer would later falsely suggest on Fox News was related to then Vice President Biden’s trip to Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Comer mentioned this meeting again in a letter sent to Colleen Shogan of the National Archives and Records Administration. He obtained a copy of an email sent from a business associate of Hunter Biden to a staffer in the White House in which they shared proposed press statements about Hunter Biden’s work with Burisma.
The first message from the associate, Eric Schwerin, to Biden staffer Kate Bedingfield came at 10:45 a.m. She replied at 2:30 p.m. with a quote the vice president was planning to offer. “The timing of this email traffic is concerning to the Committee,” the letter said. “According to Devon Archer (another longtime Biden family business associate), after a Burisma board of directors meeting in Dubai — on the evening of December 4, 2015 (midday in Washington, D.C.) — Hunter Biden ‘called D.C.’ to discuss pressure that Burisma asked him to relieve.”
It is not clear when this call took place. There would have been a nine-hour difference in the times between the two locations. But Comer’s implication is that the statement from Biden followed the call, meaning Hunter Biden had called his father (something Archer was not able to assert) and, therefore, he was involved in the business. But it is useful to pull out a bit. Emails among those included in the cache of material attributed to Hunter Biden’s laptop show there was a lengthy chain related to the press outreach, a chain that included Burisma staff, Hunter Biden and Archer.
At issue were questions introduced by New York Times reporter James Risen, who was writing a story on the apparent conflict between Joe Biden’s anti-corruption efforts and Hunter Biden’s Burisma work. (The 2015 article noted the government was frustrated by the sitting prosecutor general’s failure to aid investigations into Burisma, contradicting claims from Comer and others.) Schwerin sent the questions to the group.
Archer responded that replies should be drafted but should be “obviously” all the same. This is likely a reference to statements the group was discussing the day prior in relation to a request from the Wall Street Journal. Those statements, in fact, were the ones sent to Bedingfield on the morning of Dec. 4, 2015. This was all in process before the board dinner. The email exchange between Bedingfield and Schwerin includes a request that the White House staffer call him at 1:43 p.m. Soon after, she shared the statement Biden had approved and that she planned to give to “both reporters.”
So now we have at least two possible scenarios. In one, which Comer offers (but Archer did not), Hunter Biden calls his father from Dubai to talk about the “pressure” Burisma was facing. In another, the board meeting was underway at a time that Hunter Biden’s team was scrambling to reply to two negative articles from major American newspapers. A call is placed to Washington, where Schwerin is located, according to his email footer. Zlochevsky, who was not on the email chain, is on the call. At 10:43 p.m. local time in Dubai, Schwerin asks Bedingfield to call him. The statements are then shared with the reporters and versions included in the reports.
One scenario demands that we start from the assumption that Hunter Biden’s call was suspect. The other fits neatly with a broader set of details. There is a valid discussion to be had over the extent to which Vice President Biden’s staff was interacting with Hunter Biden’s business partner. But that falls into the middle tier of questions outlined at the beginning of this article. Comer is focused on the unsubstantiated upper tier. To that end, he appeared Wednesday night on Fox Business in a prerecorded interview. That Biden was “coordinating with his son’s legal team about spinning false narratives to the American people should be concerning to everyone,” he argued, though the presentation of statements discussed in the email change as “false narratives” is hard to substantiate.
“Hunter Biden is a private citizen and a lawyer,” the White House statement began. “The Vice President does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company.” To assume that is false is to beg the question. To assume the statement was offered after Biden was on the phone with a Burisma official is to assume a remarkable willingness on the part of the vice president to proactively lie.
Larry Kudlow and Comer went back and forth. Eventually the Fox Business host asked Comer a question on a past unsubstantiated allegation from Comer: that Joe Biden and Hunter Biden had received substantial bribes from Zlochevsky .“I don’t have anything new to report about the subject,” Comer said after blaming the lack of news on a “cover up” by the government. So we have moved on to something else.