What we know is this: At some point in or around early 2020, Rudy Giuliani, working as an attorney for President Donald Trump, gave the Justice Department information he’d picked up as he sought to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, including from a trip he’d made to Ukraine. Attorney General William P. Barr assigned a U.S. attorney in western Pennsylvania to vet the information.

That apparently included interviewing a confidential human source — in this case, an FBI informant — who, it seems, confirmed hearing about an allegation involving a payment made to Biden while he was vice president. There’s necessarily some murkiness about this, given both that the interview with the informant is still closely held by the FBI and given that he or she was conveying secondhand information, among other things.

But someone told Republican members of Congress about all of this. A month ago, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to the FBI (accompanied by an Oversight subpoena) demanding a copy of the FBI form documenting the informant interview. They did not wait to make public the accusations they apparently already knew it contained, asserting in the letter — that was sent out with a news release — that the interview describes an “alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions.”

Over the next four weeks, despite having seen the allegation (according to Comer), the Republican majority on Oversight focused not on calling pertinent witnesses or subpoenaing bank records, something they’d done energetically when investigating Biden’s son Hunter. Instead, the focus was on pressuring the FBI to give them a copy of the interview form. The FBI explained that it didn’t share such documents both because doing so would risk exposing its source and because any claims contained in it were unvetted, but Comer, leveraging and amplifying hostility to the FBI stoked by Trump, demanded the FBI meet his demands.

So, on Monday, the FBI showed a redacted version of the document to Comer and Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee. Comer’s takeaway was the same as it had been before the FBI fulfilled his request: FBI Director Christopher A. Wray needed to be held in contempt of Congress.

That is generally where things stood by midafternoon on Monday. And then Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), now in her fifth month in Congress, decided to escalate things.

Just left meeting for House Oversight. The @FBI is afraid their informant will be killed if unmasked, based on the info he has brought forward about the Biden family.

— Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (@RepLuna) June 5, 2023

It does appear to be the case that the FBI expressed concern that, by making public an unredacted version of the interview, the safety of the confidential human source would be at risk. In a statement, Raskin suggested that the interview focused on “recycling stale and debunked Burisma conspiracy theories” — that is, allegations centered on Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine. A source that could glean information from people in Ukraine or Russia would understandably be one the FBI would seek to protect.

Notice how Luna frames this, though: The informant would be killed if “unmasked” — “based on the info he has brought forward about the Biden family.” It’s not that someone who was providing information in an ongoing basis to American law enforcement (as this informant was) would be at risk; it is, in Luna’s presentation, that this was occurring because the secondhand information related to the Bidens.

Intentionally or not, this framing tapped into a long-standing thread of rhetoric on the right. Baseless claims that President Bill Clinton had political opponents killed were extended to “the Clintons” once his wife sought the presidency in 2016. Now, the conspiratorial idea that powerful Democrats have opponents killed colored how Luna’s claim was perceived.

“I think now it’s upwards of 3.3 million impressions just on Twitter alone,” Luna boasted about her tweet to former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon on the Tuesday edition of Bannon’s fringe-right podcast. “Obviously that’s huge, because had it not been for social media I don’t know that this truth would be out there like this. I just simply put out a fact that came out of the briefing in Oversight.”

Not really, of course. She took a concern the FBI has been using about its source from the outset and framed it as being not about the source but about Biden.

As it turned out, though, that was perhaps the most defensible claim she made in her conversation with Bannon.

“We know that Comer has been obviously working to get a certain document from the FBI that proves that Biden was receiving money from a foreign national, $5 million, when he was a vice president,” she claimed. “So it’s public corruption.”

Receiving millions of dollars to take an action would be corrupt, certainly. But the FBI document doesn’t “prove” this happened; the indication is only that the FBI informant spoke to someone who seems to have made the same claim that Giuliani first elevated. The informant may even have spoken to the same person as Giuliani did.

In fact, while Comer said on Monday that the interview was part of an ongoing investigation, Raskin said that Barr and the U.S. attorney didn’t find reason to open a full investigation based on the allegation made to the informant.

Comer and Raskin were in the room for the briefing. As she admitted to Bannon, Luna was not.

“We are finding out that not only is the president — this is not a conspiracy, but we have evidence — we are also finding out that the man sitting in the White House is basically guilty of national security violations,” Luna claimed.

Bannon, somewhat surprisingly, asked what evidence she and her colleagues had.

“Because of the information that the FBI has,” Luna replied, “proving that he has received a $5 million payment from a foreign national while he was the vice president.”

She made the same claim on Fox News on Tuesday night. If the FBI has such evidence, however, it chose not to bring charges in the middle of 2020, a year when Barr’s boss was up for reelection. The more likely assumption is that Luna is simply exaggerating the narrative that Comer has been building for the past month.

This is not hard to imagine. In an interview with right-wing commentator Benny Johnson, Luna asserted that the contempt charges against Wray meant that the FBI director “could end up in jail.” In addition to the rationale for holding Wray in contempt being transparently thin, it is wildly unlikely that the Justice Department of Attorney General Merrick Garland would respond to a contempt citation from the House with criminal charges.

Then there’s Luna’s claim that Comer has learned about a leak at the FBI.

“The FBI is infiltrated,” she claimed. “You have a spy by the name of ‘One-Eye’ — I mean, I say it, I feel like I’m in a James Bond movie! But unfortunately, it’s true — who has been leaking information to their knowledge to Hunter Biden.”

This was actually reported back in March. Miranda Devine of the New York Post, a reporter who has reported various allegations about Hunter Biden, reported there was an informant named “One-Eye” who was either in the bureau or a veteran of it. This person allegedly took money to give Hunter Biden and his business partners information about probes.

The source of that allegation was Gal Luft, a former member of the Israeli military who faced federal charges of illegal arms dealing that he claimed were a response to his revealing information about the Bidens. Luft was also the informant that Comer last month suddenly claimed had gone missing — though the chairman at first accidentally suggested that the missing person was the informant who was interviewed by the FBI.

A request to Luna’s office for clarification on her comments was not answered by the time of publication.

This is the pattern for the past month: claims made without evidence, assertions elevated without grounding. Luna simply amplified Comer’s pattern, earning a nice chunk of media attention as a result.

The truth of the matter, however, remains murky — and almost certainly fails to live up to the cinematic presentation of the freshman congresswoman from Florida.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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