Comer releases Biden family probe update without showing link to president
House Republicans on Wednesday showed their cards on a sprawling investigation into the Biden family — sans a smoking gun that directly links President Joe Biden.
The rollout by Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and GOP members of his panel marks the biggest public swing that Republicans have taken since November in a probe they’ve put at the center of investigations they hope will help them both keep their majority in 2024 and win the White House.
But the highly anticipated press conference also raised fresh questions about their ability to ultimately capture their white whale: the president himself. And Comer's already faced plenty of doubt, including from some within his own party, that he can back up his promises to show Biden's connection to family business dealings.
No link has publicly emerged, and that didn't change at Wednesday's press conference.
Asked if he would ultimately be able to prove his central thesis, Comer sidestepped: “I don’t think anyone in America … would think that it’s just a coincidence that nine Biden family members have received money.”
“We believe that the president has been involved in this from the very beginning. Obviously, we’re going to continue to look,” he added, characterizing Wednesday's update as the “beginning stages” of his investigation.
Even as Republicans continue to rhetorically circle around Biden, much of the investigative effort they revealed on Wednesday centered around a network of businesses related to his family members and their associates.
A 30-plus-page memo from GOP Oversight staff, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, focused on payments linked to Romania and China. According to the GOP memo based on bank records the committee has obtained, Biden family members, business associates or related companies received more than $10 million in total from companies run by foreign nationals.
The memo detailed payments to Biden family members and asserted that “it is not credible” that the president wasn’t aware of his family’s business efforts given the total size of the payments. It also did not show any way in which Biden’s decisions were influenced by those agreements or that he had direct knowledge of them.
And while Republicans have criticized the payments as questionable, they stopped short of calling any of the activity potentially illegal.
Comer outlined his next investigative steps on Wednesday, vowing that he would soon issue subpoenas to several more banks. He also hinted at subpoenaing Hunter Biden’s business associates, including a gallery that has been selling the First Son's artwork.
He’s also mulling a slate of potential legislation, including changes to ethics and financial disclosure legislation that would impact both presidents’ family members.
Congressional Democrats, the White House and their off-Hill allies push back that Comer is repackaging previous public reporting. They argue that the Kentucky Republican is cherry-picking from a swath of documents he has received as part of the investigation.
“Rep. Comer … has spent the last five months making wild predictions without proof, asking inane questions out loud and falling short every time — including today,” said Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Hunter Biden. “Today’s so-called ‘revelations’ are retread, repackaged misstatements of perfectly proper meetings and business by private citizens.”
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, added that “there’s a lot of innuendo and a lot of gossip taking place and much of it is recycled from prior claims.”
Democratic Oversight Committee staff circulated their own memo on Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, that accused Comer of misrepresenting suspicious activity reports — or SARs — that he has received from the Treasury Department. The records are submitted by banks to the Treasury but don’t necessarily indicate wrongdoing.
“None of the SARs allege, or even suggest, any potential misconduct by President Biden, and many of the SARs, including those on which Chairman Comer relies, are based on erroneous or unfounded claims,” the memo from Raskin’s staff says. (A GOP Oversight aide told POLITICO that the information in Republicans' memo is based not on the Treasury documents but on separate bank records they received from subpoenas.)
Comer’s press conference comes as he competes for the investigative spotlight on other Biden investigations.
Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), also a member of the Oversight Committee, released a new report Wednesday morning on his separate investigation into a 2020 letter from 51 former intelligence officials who warned that a New York Post story related to Hunter Biden could be the product of Russian disinformation. Jordan’s also gobbled up weeks of media attention over a high-profile standoff with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over his investigation involving former President Donald Trump.
That's on top of the looming decision by Justice Department officials on whether to charge Hunter Biden as part of a yearslong tax- and gun-related case. That probe into Hunter Biden began in 2018 and initially centered on his finances, related to overseas business ties and consulting work. Investigators later shifted their focus to whether he failed to report all of his income and whether he lied on a form required for buying a gun.
But the larger sweep of the Biden family is where Comer’s piled a lot of his chips. It’s also the investigation that has earned him skepticism from some fellow Republicans and made the once under-the-radar GOP lawmaker a target of Democrats, the White House and outside groups.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), another member of the committee, credited Comer for handling the political crosswinds of his high-profile committee. Asked about his expectations for Wednesday, Armstrong caveated that lawmakers “don’t prosecute crimes” but said he believes Republicans will lay out “very clearly that the Biden family was influence peddling.”
“You’re not getting Jim Jordan lite. You’re getting a very different person,” Armstrong added of Comer. “He’s methodical. He’s smart. He trusts his staff. He trusts his members and he communicates well. Pretty good place to be when you’re dealing with a pretty fractious caucus.”
Comer has had to deal with a right flank pushing him to go further, faster. His committee is stacked with conservative firebrands including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.).
And while Comer has thanked Trump when he’s voiced support for the Kentucky Republican’s investigation, he’s also bristled when he gets questions about any talks with the former president — noting that he voted to certify Biden’s Electoral College win despite representing a deeply red district.
“I get asked … ‘What do you and Trump talk about?’ I haven’t talked to Trump,” Comer said in a recent interview. “I voted to certify the presidential election. … I don’t know why people think I’m on the phone with Donald Trump all the time.”