A standoff pitting Congress against federal law enforcement over the FBI‘s refusal to produce to lawmakers a file containing allegations of corruption involving President Joe Biden and Ukraine is set to escalate in the coming days.
Emerging from a briefing with the FBI at the U.S. Capitol on Monday, House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-KY) announced his committee will move forward with holding FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt of Congress because the bureau is defying a subpoena for the document that he issued early last month.
“Given the severity and complexity of the allegations contained within this record, Congress must investigate further,” Comer declared in a statement after the FBI allowed him and the top Democrat on the oversight panel, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), to view the file in a secure room at the U.S. Capitol but not take custody of it.
The FBI confirmed the unclassified record alleging then-VP Biden engaged in a $5 million bribery scheme is from a highly credible informant & being used in an ongoing investigation.
The FBI refused to hand over the doc.
I will hold Director Wray in contempt of Congress pic.twitter.com/2p1fNdmBJ1
— Rep. James Comer (@RepJamesComer) June 5, 2023
The FBI said an “escalation to a contempt vote under these circumstances is unwarranted” as it “demonstrated” a commitment to accommodate the Oversight Committee’s request while also taking precautions “often employed in response to congressional requests and in court proceedings to protect important concerns, such as the physical safety of sources and the integrity of investigations.”
Raskin, who may soon declare a bid for the Senate, disparaged Comer in a statement, saying the chairman is willfully ignoring the “legitimate law enforcement concerns” by the FBI. “Chairman Comer has declared his intent to hold Director Wray in contempt of Congress to further promote debunked Republican conspiracy theories,” he added.
The oversight panel is expected to initiate contempt hearings on Thursday. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told Fox News the full House will take up the issue next week. If the chamber, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans, were to approve a criminal contempt referral to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Wray could face a fine and up to a year’s imprisonment if federal prosecutors take up the case. There are also other forms of recourse, including civil enforcement, according to the American Bar Association.
Such a rebuke of the bureau’s chief could happen as some GOP lawmakers are talking about defunding or disbanding the FBI amid concerns about the agency becoming politically weaponized as underscored by special counsel John Durham’s recent report on the Russia investigation.
Prompted to take action by whistleblower disclosures, Comer says the unclassified record he wants to obtain describes an alleged scheme involving Biden, dating back to his time as vice president, and a foreign national. The file references some variant of “five million” and “June 30, 2020,” Comer disclosed in a recent letter to Wray. “These terms relate to the date on the FD-1023 form and its reference to the amount of money the foreign national allegedly paid to receive the desired policy outcome,” he added.
The date mentioned by Comer lands on the calendar about two weeks after Ukrainian officials announced there had been a $5 million bribe aimed at ending an investigation into the founder of Burisma Holdings, the same Ukrainian gas company at which Biden’s son, Hunter, served on the board for several years. At the time, Ukrainian anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky said a handful of suspects had been detained but stressed that “Biden Jr. and Biden Sr. do not appear in this particular proceeding,” according to Reuters.
On Tuesday, Comer confirmed the document pertains to Ukraine and that it fits a pattern seen with other countries, such as Romania, and suspicious transactions involving millions of dollars that have been linked to members of Biden’s family. “In this [file] I got to view yesterday, the oligarch who allegedly bribed Joe Biden when he was vice president said that he would make it almost impossible for anyone to find because they were gonna launder it through a series of banks and a series of shell companies,” he told Newsmax.
Raskin said FBI officials shared that the DOJ under the Trump administration looked into the information from a confidential human source about conversations with individuals in Ukraine and top brass signed off on closing an assessment in August 2020 after investigators were unable to corroborate the claims.
The Democrat also said much of the information mirrors allegations that Rudy Giuliani, who served as a personal lawyer to former President Trump, brought forward along with Andrii Derkach, a Russian-backed Ukrainian politician now sanctioned by the United States, around the time of the Ukraine-focused impeachment inquiry.
“We now know what I had long suspected: that Chairman Comer’s subpoena is about recycling stale and debunked Burisma conspiracy theories long peddled by Rudy Giuliani and a Russian agent, sanctioned by former President Trump’s own Treasury Department, as part of the effort to smear President Biden and help Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign,” Raskin said.
Raskin with new statement about document/allegation at the center of GOP move to hold Wray in contempt: pic.twitter.com/NQXUij2CGM
— Jordain Carney (@jordainc) June 5, 2023
Comer insisted that FBI officials confirmed the allegations have “not been disproven.” Further, the information comes from a “trusted, highly credible informant who has been used by the FBI for years,” the chairman said. And, according to Comer, FBI officials stated “several times the information” contained within the FD-1023 form is “currently being used in an ongoing investigation.”
Though the chairman did not divulge what active investigation that may be, it is known that U.S. Attorney David Weiss in Delaware is looking into the tax affairs of Biden’s adult son Hunter, who says he expects to be cleared of wrongdoing.
The president’s team has dismissed Comer’s inquiry as nothing more than a political exercise. “This is yet another fact-free stunt staged by Chairman Comer not to conduct legitimate oversight, but to spread thin innuendo to try to damage the President politically and get himself media attention,” White House spokesman Ian Sams said in a statement this week.
One of Comer’s GOP colleagues on the House Oversight Committee suggested the FBI fears that the stakes are considerably high for its informant at the center of the controversy.
“Just left [a] 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 (R-FL) tweeted on Monday.