Over the course of 2019, President Donald Trump and his allies were focused on the electoral threat posed by former vice president Joe Biden, the candidate leading in polling for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani thought he had a useful angle to that end: an allegation from a former Ukrainian official that Biden had leveraged American funding to benefit a company for which Hunter Biden, the vice president’s son, worked. That official, Viktor Shokin, met with Giuliani, then Trump’s attorney, to allege that the vice president had pressured Ukraine to fire him to block a probe into the energy company Burisma.

The claim didn’t withstand scrutiny. Shokin’s ouster was a multinational effort predicated on the prosecutor’s failure to address corruption. Biden’s insistence that the United States would withhold loan guarantees if Shokin retained his position was not because Biden wanted to end a probe into Burisma; there was no such probe by any independent account. If anything, his ouster was a function of his not investigating companies such as Burisma.

Giuliani was undeterred. Even after House Democrats had begun an impeachment inquiry into the Trump-Giuliani effort to force the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation into Biden, Giuliani continued to try to gin up allegations. He traveled to Ukraine in late 2019, where he conferred with various Ukrainian actors, including one later sanctioned for his ties to the Russian government.

In early 2020, Trump ally Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) revealed that he’d advised the former mayor to turn over any findings from his efforts to the Justice Department. Attorney General William P. Barr, at that point still a stalwart defender of Trump’s, told Graham “that they’ve created a process that Rudy could give information, and they would see if it’s verified,” the senator revealed on CBS that February.

“The Department of Justice has the obligation to have an open door to anybody who wishes to provide us information that they think is relevant,” Barr said when asked about Graham’s comments the next day. “I did say to Senator Graham, we have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the Ukraine.”

“There are a lot of agendas in the Ukraine,” he added. “There are a lot of crosscurrents, and we can’t take anything we receive from the Ukraine at face value.”

Barr might have been wary in part because Giuliani had turned over a packet of material to the State Department the previous year, a pastiche of timelines, unverified allegations from Shokin and others, and various other things. It wasn’t just material from Ukraine that was dubious — it was unquestionably also material from Ukraine routed through Giuliani. By that point, the Trump White House had been warned specifically that Russian intelligence wanted to use Giuliani as a pass-through for misinformation to the president.

In December 2020, the New York Times reported that, at the time he offered hesitation on trusting information from Ukraine, Barr and the FBI had already been in contact with Giuliani. Barr had assigned U.S. Attorney Scott Brady to vet Giuliani’s information and, in late January 2020, Giuliani and Brady met in Pittsburgh along with Giuliani’s attorney Robert Costello and aides to Brady to discuss what the Times described as “explosive information about Hunter Biden that he had gathered from people in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

“Mr. Costello had several ensuing conversations with Mr. Brady’s office, including as recently as this summer, about the Bidens,” the Times reported, referring to summer 2020. “Mr. Costello and Mr. Giuliani also recommended a handful of potential witnesses in the United States and Ukraine for the F.B.I. to interview, but Mr. Costello said the F.B.I. never followed through.”

That may not have been true. A month ago, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) announced that they were demanding that the FBI turn over a document cataloguing an interview with a confidential source alleging a “criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions.” That was their formulation, one offered after they had learned of the document and, perhaps, after having read what it contained (as each has since admitted doing).

Over the ensuing 30-plus days, Comer in particular has been making repeated appearances on right-wing media outlets to chastise the FBI for failing to turn over the document. It’s a weird area of focus, certainly, given that he already knows what the document alleges and could therefore simply conduct his own probe of the claims. But given the hostility to the bureau that has been so useful for Trump to stoke, Comer and other Republicans have instead made the focus of their ire the FBI’s failure to hand over the document without redactions. Comer has threatened to hold FBI Director Christopher A. Wray in contempt.

The FBI’s response to this pressure has been to note that releasing unvetted interviews with sources is both a good way to share potentially false information and to put at risk both that specific informant and the confidence other informants might have in the confidentiality of their information. But the bureau agreed to privately show the document to committee leaders with some redactions. A document, remember, that Comer says he has already read.

That viewing occurred Monday. Comer’s takeaway? Wray must be held in contempt. The show goes on.

He did address the document, though, which Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.), the top Democrat on the panel, has now seen for the first time. Comer argued that the briefing revealed that the document “has not been disproven” and that it is “currently being used in an ongoing investigation,” a probe he thought was centered in Delaware.

“Americans have lost trust in the FBI’s ability to enforce the law impartially and demand answers, transparency and accountability,” Comer insisted, which is a bit like Trump complaining that no one trusts mail ballots anymore.

Comer’s comments, mostly read from a prepared statement, were followed by Raskin’s. The document, he said, was part of the Giuliani-to-Barr-to-Brady pipeline. A team was formed to look into the allegations included in the document that he and Comer reviewed, and spent the summer of 2020 doing so.

“As I understand it, in August [the team] determined that there was no grounds to escalate from an initial assessment to a preliminary investigation,” Raskin said. What’s more, he added, “they decided that there was no grounds to escalate this up to the investigative prosecutorial chain.”

It’s not clear exactly how the Giuliani information led to the use of a confidential source. Comer insisted repeatedly that this source was highly credible, though that of course doesn’t transfer to the secondhand information they were told — which may well have simply been what Giuliani heard in the first place. It’s also not clear what is at the center of the allegations, though Raskin’s comments about Ukraine and Brady suggest a strong likelihood that they (one again) center on Hunter Biden’s work with Burisma.

Neither Comer nor Raskin was specific about the claims. Comer’s insistence that the document is part of an ongoing investigation in Delaware suggests that, if he’s correct, it’s probably part of the known Hunter Biden probe. (When the Times wrote about Brady’s role in December 2020, it noted that the Delaware team was frustrated at running parallel investigations.)

But that admission from Comer also undercuts his central political case. He insisted that the document was part of an ongoing investigation to heighten its importance — but that then undercuts the idea he needs answers on what happened with it. He admitted last week he’d already seen it, undermining the urgency of the FBI providing it. What’s more, if the FBI is using the information as part of an investigation, that bolsters the bureau’s argument for not releasing it.

We don’t know much more than we did a month ago, with a few exceptions. First, that it is linked to Giuliani’s endlessly dubious claims. Second, that the broad strokes of this probe have been known for more than a year without any hint of the president being targeted. And third, that Comer’s own rationales for putting pressure on the FBI have only gotten weaker.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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