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Comer’s habit of cherry-picking depositions comes back to haunt him

One of the arguments offered by attorneys for President Biden’s son Hunter when responding to a subpoena from the House Oversight Committee for a closed-door deposition was that the committee had shown a pattern of cherry-picking what would be presented to the public.

This is unquestionably true. Over and over and over and over and over, committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) has made debunked and unsubstantiated public statements that cast the president and/or his son as dishonest or has rushed to release unsubstantiated claims or information that similarly collapse under scrutiny. The first year of his investigation into the Bidens made extremely little progress as a result — except where it matters, in the right-wing media universe.

Clearly, though, this has not gone unnoticed by those enmeshed in Comer’s sprawling investigation. There was that letter from Hunter Biden’s lawyer Abbe Lowell in November. And then, this week, a letter from an attorney for Kevin Morris, a wealthy friend of Hunter Biden who helped pay off the president’s son’s tax liability.

Morris appeared for a closed-door deposition on Thursday. His attorney, Bryan Sullivan, claims in the letter that he asked at the outset that his client’s testimony not be cherry-picked or misrepresented. Instead, he said, he received only a promise that Morris would “be treated fairly.”

“You did not treat Mr. Morris fairly and engaged in your standard practice of partially and inaccurately leaking a witness’s statements,” Morris writes in the letter obtained by The Washington Post. “Not two hours after we left Mr. Morris’ transcribed interview, you issued a press statement with cherry‐picked, out of context and totally misleading descriptions of what Mr. Morris said.”

It is very important to point out that this may simply be Sullivan’s effort to frame the moment as positively as possible for his client. We should not assume that the examples in his letter — which we’ll consider in a moment — are themselves necessarily accurate.

To his point, though, this could be ameliorated by the House Oversight panel releasing a transcript of the testimony. This is not an instantaneous process, certainly; it took three days for the testimony of Hunter Biden’s former business partner Devon Archer to be released last year. But there’s also no rush to try to frame Morris’s testimony, no demand to make public what he said. Well, there is one source of demand: the right’s appetite for any morsel of information that seems to implicate the president or his son in wrongdoing. That’s a demand for which Comer offers an endless supply.

There’s something else to consider about Sullivan’s response. Even if it is an attempt to cast his client in a more favorable light by pointing to Comer’s track record of cherry-picking, it reinforces that this cherry-picking is a liability for Comer. That he has this track record of trying to construct as damning a case as possible instead of trying to fairly represent witness testimony as broadly informative about the investigation itself.

Sullivan alleged multiple misrepresentations — again, the transcript can help tell us who is more accurately describing what occurred. Comer’s press release:

inaccurately described why Morris made the loan to Hunter Biden,used scare-quotes around “loan” to suggest that the payment (vetted by attorneys, Sullivan argued) was not a loan at all,overstated Morris’s past support for Democratic candidates, andsuggested that this money had somehow provided Morris access to the president.

“Mr. Morris testified that he has only had cursory communications with President Biden at public events like Mr. Biden’s daughter’s wedding,” Sullivan wrote, “and said basic courtesy things as ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’ and President Biden making comments about Mr. Morris’ unkempt hair style that lasted a few minutes.”

The scare-quotes around “loan,” we should note, are probably meant to suggest that Morris didn’t expect to be repaid (though, per Sullivan, Morris testified under oath that he did). It’s also a word that has gained new importance for Comer in the past few months.

Several of the claims that Comer made at the end of last year focused on Joe Biden’s receipt of money from his brother and Hunter Biden’s law firm — money that in every case was established as involving repayment of loans offered by Biden (before he was president). So Comer and his allies began to regularly suggest that the issuance of loans was somehow nefarious.

We don’t know if Sullivan is fairly representing the testimony, though his arguments deserve more of the benefit of the doubt than Comer’s, given the chairman’s track record. We will see, should the testimony be made public — which most of the depositions to date have not been.

The most prominent release of testimony is useful to consider here, though. That was the testimony of Archer.

After that deposition was completed but before the transcript came out, Comer and his colleague Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) went on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. They made claims about what Archer had said, suggesting that Hunter Biden’s former partner had both described the then-vice president’s involvement in calls with his son’s clients and even implicated him in trying to influence Ukraine on behalf of his son. That latter claim, even without the transcript, was clearly false for several reasons.

Then the transcript came out, and we learned that Archer had not only suggested that the Biden calls — placed by a father to his son while his son, by outward appearances, happened to be with clients — were non-substantive but that Archer had denied Joe Biden was involved in their business at all. (Among other deviations from Comer’s implications.)

There are two things Comer may have learned from that. First, that the release of the transcript didn’t deter his ideological allies from amplifying his narrow or false accusations against the president. Second, that releasing the transcript only made it easier for skeptics to challenge his arguments. So why release transcripts at all? After all, this was the guy who, after a hearing went sideways, told reporters he didn’t think more hearings would be useful.

We may perhaps see if this is another example of Comer cherry-picking or framing claims that help his case or if, instead, it’s an example of how his doing so frequently in the past allows critics to disparage how he’s conducting the probe.

Neither is what one might seek in an objective investigator.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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