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James Comer’s Biden claims do not deserve the benefit of the doubt

There has been a consistent pattern displayed over the 11 months since Republicans regained control of the House majority and, with it, the leadership of the chamber’s investigatory committees. The pattern: House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) will make a claim alleging wrongdoing by President Biden and then, in short order, that allegation will be shown to be incorrect or baseless.

Thanks to his stewardship of the endlessly wolf-crying effort to impugn the president, Comer’s profile has risen dramatically in the past few months. He’s aided in this by the extensive right-wing media universe, in which his claims are immediately celebrated and through which they propagate quickly. But because more objective audiences have not been paying close attention to the claims he’s made since taking over leadership of Oversight, many observers aren’t aware of the extent of his track record of making false or indefensible claims about Biden.

So we should put a fine point on it: Comer’s track record makes it obvious that he does not deserve the benefit of the doubt. Allegations that he offers should not be granted the baseline assumption that they are true.

We can begin with the development he announced Monday and work backward.

For months, Comer and his allies have insisted that Biden was the beneficiary of payments from his son Hunter Biden or his brother James Biden, despite a lack of evidence of such payments. So it was with no small amount of smugness that Comer announced the discovery that there were direct payments to Joe Biden: a recurring payment originating from Hunter Biden’s law firm to the current president.

“Hunter Biden’s legal team and the White House’s media allies claim Hunter’s corporate entities never made payments directly to Joe Biden,” Comer said Monday in a recorded statement. “We can officially add this latest talking point to the list of lies.”

You’ll notice how precisely Comer phrased that: that the media said “corporate entities never made payments.” It is true there was no evidence of such a payment, but the broader issue, highlighted by the media, was that there was no evidence that Biden was benefiting from Hunter’s or James’s deals.

There still isn’t. As The Washington Post reported Monday afternoon, the payments from Hunter Biden’s law firm in 2018 — just over $4,000 in total — were repayments for a truck Joe Biden helped his son purchase.

Text messages released as part of the cache of digital files related to Hunter Biden that became public in 2020 include an interaction between the president’s son and a salesman at a Ford dealership in June 2018. Hunter Biden was running late; the dealer confirmed that his father had already arrived as, it seems, the purchase was being finalized. Another message in that set of documents (which have not all been verified by The Post) identifies Joe Biden as the person holding the insurance on the truck.

In fact, the truck repayment — in the specific amount elevated by Comer — was reported by the New York Post in April 2022.

What this new revelation from Comer suggests is not that Biden was integrated into his family’s business interests, earning gobs of money on the sly. It’s that Hunter Biden needed help buying a truck and turned to his dad.

Remarkably, we went through a similar thing with Comer just last week. Then, he asserted that “Joe Biden received $40,000 in laundered China money in the form of a personal check from his sister-in-law.” Biden received a personal check from his sister-in-law, Sara Biden, but this, too, was a repayment for a loan Joe Biden had extended to her husband, James. One good indication of this is that the memo field on the check read “loan repayment.”

But Comer, coming up dry after nearly a year of investigating Biden, was intent on overhyping what his probe had found. The “laundered China money” part of it is unsubstantiated, depending on transfers of money between multiple accounts over a matter of several weeks to tie the $40,000 Biden was repaid to funding from Chinese business partners of Hunter and James Biden. At first, he even tried to cast suspicion on the idea that this repayment (and another, larger one), were loan repayments at all. At another point, he suggested that, “even if” it was a loan, Joe Biden had “benefited from his family cashing in on his name,” as though being repaid for a loan was an enormous financial gain.

More recently, Comer decided that the Bidens were using loans — sneakily. He appeared on Maria Bartiromo’s Fox News show on Sunday to hype an email sent by a bank official in 2018 raising questions about Hunter Biden’s financial activity. (You’ll note that the events in this article all occurred when Joe Biden was a private citizen.)

“This fits a pattern that we’ve been talking about on your show for months,” Comer insisted, “where the Bidens were taking in, you know, millions of dollars from our enemies around the world and they were calling them loans because when you say a ‘loan’ you don’t have to report that on your taxes.”

Again, exaggerations: The millions “from our enemies” went to Hunter Biden and his uncle, not “the Bidens” in a way that includes Joe Biden. The application of “enemies” also depends on conflating the business partners of Hunter and James Biden with the governments of the countries where the partners were located. But the pivot here is important. Now “loans” aren’t a cover for wrongdoing but somehow evidence of it.

What’s the value in this to Comer? He made it clear to Bartiromo, insisting that less-conservative Republicans might be more likely to support a Biden impeachment now after returning to their districts over Thanksgiving. There, he said, they were harangued by constituents who wanted to see the president held to account — views fostered by the right-wing media world’s amplifications of Comer’s false claims.

Mind you, what’s outlined above are only the most recent iterations of Comer’s efforts. After his committee deposed Hunter Biden’s former business partner Devon Archer, he claimed that Archer had revealed how Joe Biden had acted on behalf of one of Hunter Biden’s clients. In reality, the timeline presented by Comer was incorrect and Archer’s testimony reinforced that Joe Biden had never taken action for those business efforts. Comer had already tried to suggest that a sentencing development for Archer (who was convicted of fraud charges in 2018) was perhaps meant to intimidate Archer before his testimony, which was a baseless claim.

Then there was the allegation Comer presented in May, alongside Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), that Joe and Hunter Biden had received enormous bribes from a foreign actor. Comer spent weeks treating the claim as true, pushing, with Grassley, for the release of an FBI document in which an informant conveyed having heard about the allegation. No evidence in support of the claim has emerged; evidence that the claim is false, however, has been made public.

This is a cursory overview of Comer’s claims. We could point out, for example, that he and his allies continue to make basic allegations about Joe Biden’s family and their businesses that The Post showed were untrue in August.

In short, Comer had made numerous allegations against Biden over the year, including several new ones in the past few weeks. Those allegations have never been demonstrably true. Instead, they’ve often been quickly shown to be demonstrably false.

Right-wing media outlets have an obvious reason to pretend that each of Comer’s new “revelations” is noteworthy, important and inculpatory for the president. Everyone else has an obvious reason to assume that, if James Comer says it, it probably won’t pan out.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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