This article has been updated.

Those tuning in to Maria Bartiromo’s Fox News program Sunday would have heard about a crisis of presidential malfeasance that, in Bartiromo’s words, constituted “the biggest political scandal any of us have ever seen.”

Not Donald Trump’s retention of classified material or efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. No, she was referring to the allegation that President Biden had taken a $5 million bribe while serving as vice president to aid the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

Most of Bartiromo’s viewers were probably familiar with the story since the conspiratorial Fox host has been hyping it for its month-long existence. If you are not, though, it can be summarized succinctly: An FBI informant talked to one of the founders of Burisma years ago at which point the executive claimed to have made or wanted to make a bribe to Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. He claimed to have recordings of conversations with both, though it’s not clear that these allegedly document the bribe — or as multiple Republicans have admitted‚ whether they exist. The FBI informant conveyed this to the bureau in mid-2020.

That is the extent of the evidence: a secondhand claim that was vetted by William P. Barr’s Justice Department in 2020 without an investigation being launched. Barr, speaking to Fox News earlier this month, claimed that the document had nonetheless made its way into other open investigations, including one in Delaware — which he confirmed to mean the one targeting Hunter Biden.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have contested Barr’s version of events, but Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) — a central engine for the “$5 million bribe” narrative — similarly linked the allegations to a Delaware probe after reviewing a summary of the FBI’s interview with its informant.

On Tuesday, a plea agreement between Hunter Biden and the federal government became public. He admitted to failing to pay income taxes in two years and, after paying back what was owed, will probably receive probation. A charge related to his purchase of a firearm will probably result in his participation in a diversion program.

“With the announcement of two agreements between my client, Hunter Biden, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware,” Biden’s attorney said in a statement, “it is my understanding that the five-year investigation into Hunter is resolved.”

Soon after, CNN’s Marchall Cohen reported that the U.S. attorney who led the investigation into Hunter Biden, David Weiss, described the probe as “ongoing” — though it’s not clear what that means. Perhaps there is a different investigation underway in which this alleged $5 million bribe is being considered. Or perhaps the Justice Department didn’t think that those claims from the Burisma executive were credible in the first place.

The reaction from Trump’s allies was both immediate and predictable. That Hunter Biden would probably get probation on the tax charges was a sign that the “system is BROKEN!” in Trump’s phrasing on Truth Social. From the moment Trump’s federal indictment was announced last week, it was compared to the treatment of Hunter Biden, first to suggest that the president’s son was escaping punishment (as on the front page of the New York Post) and now to insist that the punishment was too light. (Had Trump turned over the documents he retained in the first place, of course, he probably wouldn’t face any punishment at all.)

Again, this was inevitable. But that the Hunter Biden probe reached its conclusion without sweeping charges related to a $5 million payment from a foreign actor is noteworthy in its own right. The Justice Department had the allegation about a “bribe” in 2020 and, three years later, reached a deal on criminal charges that had no obvious relationship to the allegation. Barr’s and Comer’s suggestion that it might still come into play in regards to a case in Delaware has, by outside appearances, come up dry.

In a statement, Comer seemed to suggest that he believed that the Justice Department’s role had ended. The “sweetheart deal,” as he described it, would “have no impact on the Oversight Committee’s investigation.”

It is not as though Comer and his colleague Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) have uncovered other evidence to bolster the idea. Since declaring publicly in early May that Biden had been accused of bribery, they spent weeks trying to get the FBI to make the documentation of the interview public. Only recently did they subpoena bank records aimed at seeing whether Biden received any such payment — despite having already received and made public other payments to Hunter Biden and his uncle.

The bribery allegation has always survived on a diet of nebulousness, with every new detail learned about it only serving to reduce its credibility. Perhaps that will change at some point. But on Tuesday, another ding: That Delaware probe into Hunter Biden didn’t obviously include anything about it.

Still “the biggest political scandal any of us have ever seen,” I guess, assuming that you’ve never before seen any other political scandals.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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