On June 16 2023, a Reddit user shared a post (“Comer admits nobody has heard from alleged Biden informant for three years”) to r/politics:
It was shared at a time when several prominent subreddits were dark as part of an ongoing Reddit-wide protest, limiting the volume of content on Reddit’s r/all. It received significant engagement (generating over a thousand comments in a span of several hours), but its claims involved additional context that were not mentioned in the title of the post.
‘Comer Admits …’ Who is James Comer, and What is He Investigating?
Rep. James Comer is a Republican congressman from Kentucky.
Searches for “James Comer” primarily returned articles relating to an investigation or attempted investigations into U.S. President Joe Biden. A Wikipedia entry — “James Comer (politician)” — identified Comer as a Republican member of Congress from Kentucky, elected to his office in 2016 and who assumed the role of Chair of the House Oversight Committee in 2023.
The portion of his Wikipedia entry about his tenure in that role focused largely on “investigations” into Biden and his family:
After the 2022 United States House of Representatives election resulted in a House Republican majority, Comer said that the House Oversight Committee’s “focus in this next Congress” would be to investigate President Joe Biden, particularly his “relationship with his family’s foreign partners and whether he is a president who is compromised or swayed by foreign dollars and influence.”
After Comer became chair of the Oversight Committee, he responded in January 2023 to the Joe Biden classified documents incident by calling for visitor logs for Biden’s residence, where Biden’s lawyers found some classified documents from his vice presidency … Comer declared he would investigate Biden because Biden “hasn’t been investigated,” adding: “there have been so many investigations of President Trump. I don’t feel like we need to spend a whole lot of time investigating President Trump.”
In March 2023, Comer confirmed that he had ended a House investigation into Trump’s financial dealings, in which Trump’s former accounting company, Mazars USA, had been turning over documents as part of a court-supervised settlement; the documents provided information on how foreign governments patronized the Trump International Hotel. Comer said he “didn’t even know who or what Mazars was” and that he was instead investigating “money the Bidens received from China.”
When CNN asked Comer in April 2023 whether his investigation had found “anything illegal while [Joe Biden] was actually in office”, he replied: “we found a lot that’s certainly unethical … We found a lot that should be illegal. The line is blurry as to what is legal and not legal with respect to family influence-peddling.”
Comer’s name rarely appeared outside of this context. In November 2022, Reuters.com reported that Congressional Republicans hosted a press conference to announce a broad investigation into Joe Biden and members of his family:
After winning control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans said on [November 17 2022] that investigating President Joe Biden and his family’s business dealings will be their top oversight priority when they formally take power next year.
Representative James Comer, a Kentucky Republican who is expected to chair the House Oversight and Reform Committee, told reporters that the panel will investigate bank reports and claims by anonymous whistleblowers that he said show connections between the president and the business activities of his 52-year-old businessman son, Hunter Biden … “I want to be clear. This is an investigation of Joe Biden. That’s where the committee will focus in this next Congress,” Comer told reporters.
“This committee will evaluate the status of Joe Biden’s relationship with his family’s foreign partners and whether he is a president who is compromised or swayed by foreign dollars and influence,” Comer said, saying that the committee has obtained two suspicious activity reports filed by major banks.
In Comer’s words, the House Oversight Committee intended to prove that United States President Joe Biden was “a president who is compromised or swayed by foreign dollars and influence.”
‘Influence Peddling,’ and a Compromised American President
If Comer’s phrasing sounded familiar, it was likely because the descriptors “influence peddling” and “compromised” remained present in the news cycle in the years leading up to and after former Biden’s predecessor, disgraced former U.S. President Donald Trump, was indicted in June 2023.
In February 2018, NPR published a transcript (Trump Stories: Collusion). In that transcript, former Trump associate Paul Manafort described his activities as “influence peddling”:
[NPR host Kelly McEvers]: So the third person who worked on the Trump campaign who has connections to Russia who you need to know about is Paul Manafort. Paul Manafort worked on other campaigns in the past for Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole. He was also a lobbyist.
PAUL MANAFORT: The technical term for what we do and what law firms, associations and professional groups do is lobbying. For purposes of today, I will admit that, in a narrower sense, some people might term it influence peddling.
MCEVERS: That’s [Manafort] testifying to Congress in 1989 about allegations of corruption at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Paul Manafort has also helped unpopular dictators improve their images. And he did a lot of work in Ukraine for this politician Viktor Yanukovych who was thrown out of office after big protests … Federal prosecutors [in 2018] say Manafort laundered tens of millions of dollars he made in Ukraine to hide it from the U.S. government. Manafort has denied the charges. Anyway, in the spring of 2016, Paul Manafort gets in touch with the Trump campaign and offers to work for the campaign for free and eventually becomes the campaign chairman. Around this same time, summer 2016, Manafort also offers to give a private briefing to a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska about what’s happening inside the Trump campaign. A U.S. diplomatic cable once described Deripaska as very close to Vladimir Putin. But this briefing never happens, and Deripaska has denied any involvement with the Trump campaign.
[NPR’s Ryan Lucas]: Either way, anybody who has worked the campaign would probably tell you that it’s inappropriate for a campaign manager for a U.S. presidential candidate to be offering a foreign businessman information on the inner workings of the campaign.
MCEVERS: Eventually, the New York Times starts reporting on Manafort’s work in Ukraine, and Manafort resigns from Trump’s campaign.
“Compromised” didn’t appear in the transcript, but at the beginning, McEvers described it in the context of a trip that Trump made to Moscow in the late 1980s:
[MCEVERS]: And we should say, if [Trump’s Moscow hotel] room was bugged in 1987, the recordings have never surfaced. But Luke Harding says this visit is important because it means that going back decades, Russian officials have been interested in bringing Donald Trump into their world, either as someone who will willingly help them or is someone who can be blackmailed into helping them. This is the kind of person the KGB was after.
Rumors that Trump had been “compromised” by Russiam interests circulated well before (and during) his single term as United States President. In November 2018, the Center for American Progress Action (CAP) published “Conspiracy Against the United States: The Story of Trump and Russia.”
A subheading read:
The Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with the Russian government in the 2016 U.S. presidential election has become the defining scandal of the administration so far. This report lays out the overwhelming evidence of that collusion, exploring its underpinnings going back decades to create a cohesive explanation for how—and why—the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to install Trump in the White House.
It served as a detail-rich contrast to Comer’s ambiguous assertions, explaining in part:
Following the scandal as it unfolds can feel like standing too close to an impressionist painting: It’s easy to see the individual brushstrokes, but much harder to see the whole picture they create. This report, which comprises materials previously published by the Moscow Project along with new research and analysis, takes a step back from the canvas and the day-to-day deluge of stories to provide a clear picture of how Trump’s long history of corruption created one of the biggest political scandals in American history.
That picture traces two main narratives, detailed in this report. In Chapter 1, the report explores Putin’s vendetta against the West, which has spurred his current campaign of asymmetric warfare against the United States and Europe. Chapter 2 explores Trump’s decades of corrupt business practices, which made him vulnerable to compromise by foreign powers. Connecting the two narratives is the Russian oligarchy, a class of businesspeople with whom both players have important and mutually beneficial relationships. For Putin, that relationship is the key to both his ongoing kleptocratic regime in Russia and his attempts to influence politics abroad. He has effectively co-opted his country’s wealthiest individuals to act as unofficial executors of his policy both at home and abroad. For Trump, Russian money has sustained his real estate empire through multiple bankruptcies and a financial crisis, often in ways that raise major red flags concerning money laundering and other corrupt practices.
CAP published a second, equally thorough follow-up in December 2018 (“Following the Money: Trump and Russia-Linked Transactions From the Campaign to the Presidential Inauguration,”) further describing the meaning of “compromised”:
Law enforcement, congressional, and media investigations over the last two years [2016 through 2018] have revealed that Kremlin-linked actors paid considerable sums of money to support Trump and curry his favor. A Russian organization allegedly controlled by an oligarch close to Putin spent more than $1 million a month just on social media campaigns favoring Trump, according to the special counsel. A Russian American energy tycoon—who boasted to a Kremlin official in July 2016 of being “actively involved in Trump’s election campaign”—donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Trump Victory fund. And a company affiliated with a sanctioned Russian oligarch paid $1 million to Michael Cohen, then Trump’s personal lawyer, for unspecified services after the election. These and other transactions examined throughout the report establish that, during the campaign and presidential transition, Trump had several compromising financial entanglements with actors representing a hostile foreign power.
Moreover, while Trump vehemently denied business links to Russia during his campaign, the Kremlin knew otherwise. Recent filings by the special counsel allege that Trump hoped to make “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” for a project in Moscow that was advancing “at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.” In his plea agreement, Cohen admits to suggesting that Trump could travel to Russia “once he becomes the nominee after the convention” to drum up support for the project.
CAP’s December 2018 report was broken down into sections, with one labeled “Buying access to the administration.” It began:
President Trump’s unprecedented decision to retain his private company has prompted concerns that foreign governments or private individuals can try to curry favor with the president through his business. For example, some analysts have suggested that Trump’s ongoing financial relationship with Saudi Arabia, whose diplomats have spent large sums of money at Trump properties since his election, may have influenced the administration’s muted response to the country’s alleged assassination of the Saudi American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia are currently suing the president, alleging that his continued ownership of the Trump Organization violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars federal officials from accepting anything of value from foreign governments without congressional approval. As of this writing, the White House is attempting to appeal a federal judge’s ruling allowing the case to proceed to discovery.
The sections below consider other means, perhaps more direct, by which foreign governments such as Russia can gain access to the administration or curry undue favor through financial leverage. As with other operations discussed above, obfuscation and layering are paramount.
In March 2019, Bloomberg.com published “Trump Team’s Conflicts and Scandals: An Interactive Guide.” An April 14 2019 Politico.com article about then-active investigations into the Trump administration further served as a contrast to Comer’s comments, in as much as it contained specific allegations:
Several lines of inquiry that Mueller and the FBI — not to mention countless journalists and amateur internet sleuths — had reportedly been pursuing went unaddressed in the copious document. They include mysterious interactions between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank computer servers, the inner workings of the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, and influence-peddling by Middle Eastern countries targeting Trump’s fledgling administration. Other avenues, like whether compromising tapes exist of the president and what a Russian oligarch did with the internal Trump campaign polling data he was given, were left open-ended.
Comer used the words “influence peddling,” whereas the articles excerpted above addressed specific individuals, entities, incidents, and allegations and their potential influence on the United States.
‘ … Nobody Has Heard From [the] Alleged Biden Informant’
In the context of the Reddit title alone, it wasn’t clear who the “alleged Biden informant” was, nor why that individual might have lost touch with investigators for three years, nor what was purportedly being investigated in the first place.
Comer became Chair of the House Oversight Committee on January 3 2023, indicating that any “missing Biden informants” entered the picture well before Comer’s appointment. On June 13 2023, Comer contributed an editorial to FoxNews.com, echoed in a press release on oversight.house.gov (“Comer’s Fox News Op-ed: Did Joe Biden sell out America? 4 things to know about Democrats’ claims.”)
The press release began by framing its allegations as inherently factual and referencing “the Biden family’s influence peddling schemes”:
WASHINGTON—In an op-ed published in Fox News [on June 13 2023], House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) outlined how the Oversight Committee is investigating the Biden family’s influence peddling schemes and the allegations contained within an unclassified FBI record to determine if President Biden sold out the United States to make money for himself. Chairman Comer also sets the record straight about how Democrats are lying to the American people about the allegations contained within the FBI’s record.
Comer’s editorial appeared at the end of the press release, as well as on FoxNews.com. It was best described as vague:
For the past year, the House Oversight Committee, where I serve as chairman, has been investigating the Biden family’s influence peddling schemes that generated millions of dollars for the Biden family. We are following the facts. We need to know whether these deals threaten national security and if President Joe Biden is compromised.
The Oversight Committee has already obtained thousands of pages of financial records related to the Biden family and has traced millions of dollars from China and Romania to the Biden family and their associates. Americans are asking: What is the Biden family business? They don’t sell anything, they don’t have lucrative assets generating income, yet they receive millions from around the globe. What are they selling? Influence and access.
President Biden has repeatedly lied to the American people about his family’s business dealings. Now, Americans are left wondering if Joe Biden was involved with them.
A highly credible whistleblower provided disclosures to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that the FBI has an unclassified, FBI-generated record known as an FD-1023 form. The document memorializes a confidential human source’s conversations with a foreign national who claimed to have bribed then-Vice President Biden in exchange for certain actions.
Subsequent portions of Comer’s editorial rearranged the earlier language, but details remained consistently vague throughout:
Here is what we know:
- The FBI confirmed multiple times during our briefing that the information contained within the record is currently being used in an ongoing investigation.
- The confidential human source who provided information about then-Vice President Biden being involved in a criminal bribery scheme is a trusted, highly credible informant who has been used by the FBI for years and paid six figures.
- The allegations contained within the record track closely with the thousands of pages of financial records obtained by the Oversight Committee. The Bidens have a pattern of using their network of over 20 limited liability companies and complicated financial transactions to hide the sources of the money and evade detection.
Disinformation from the left reinforces the need for the FBI to produce this unclassified FD-1023 record to the House Oversight Committee.
Americans have lost trust in the FBI’s ability to enforce the law impartially and demand answers, transparency, and accountability.
The Oversight Committee will continue to follow the facts and ensure accountability for the American people. Democrats’ lies and deterrents will not distract us from this goal.
Comer used the word “informant” one time, in the second bullet point excerpted above, making no other reference to the individual. A June 13 2023 NewRepublic.com article, “James Comer Doesn’t Seem to Care If Biden Probe Evidence Is Legit,” reported:
… Most recently, Comer had threatened to hold FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt of Congress if he didn’t hand over a document Comer claimed would prove some of the allegations. House members were finally allowed [in June 2023] to see a redacted version of the FBI document, which includes an unverified allegation of audio recordings of Biden and Hunter Biden accepting a bribe.
When asked Tuesday morning [June 13 2023] on Newsmax if the recordings were legitimate, Comer hedged. “I can confirm that the recordings were in the 10-23,” Comer said, referring to an FD 10-23, a form the FBI uses to note unverified information from confidential sources.
Newsmax host Rob Finnerty pressed him to confirm the recordings were real, and Comer replied, “I can confirm they were listed in the 10-23 that the FBI redacted. We don’t know if they’re legit or not.”
Comer also accused the FBI Tuesday [June 13 2023] of not investigating these claims. Except the FBI did: The bureau, alongside a U.S. attorney appointed by then-President Donald Trump, reviewed the bribery accusation when it was made in 2020 and found it to be unsubstantiated.
Comer’s editorial mentioned Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as another lawmaker involved with the attempts to investigate Biden. On June 1 2023, the Washington Post reported that Grassley said, “We aren’t interested in whether or not the accusations against Vice President Biden are accurate or not,” while evading questions about the contents of the 10-23 form:
As eager as Comer has been to make allegations about Biden based on this single-source document, Grassley has been reticent. He appeared on Fox News on Thursday morning [June 1 2023], carefully but deliberately stepping back from Comer’s claims.
“We aren’t interested in whether or not the accusations against Vice President Biden are accurate or not,” Grassley said. “We’re responsible for making sure the FBI does its job, and that’s what we want to know.”
Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer asked what the document said.
“I’m not going to characterize it,” the senator replied.
“How damning is this document to the sitting U.S. president?” Hemmer asked a bit later.
“I don’t know that,” Grassley replied, “and that’s what we need to —”
“But you’ve read it,” Hemmer pressed.
“I read it,” Grassley replied. “Let’s put it this way: There’s accusations in it, but that’s — it’s not for me to make a judgment about whether these accusations are accurate or not. It’s up to my job to make sure the FBI is doing their job.”
On May 14 2023, Mediaite.com reported that Comer was unable to locate “the informant,” revealing that detail during a Fox News appearance where Comer “failed to produce evidence directly implicating the president or his family in an illegal scheme of international influence peddling”:
While Bartiromo’s Fox News colleagues have repeatedly pressed Comer to produce facts to back up his allegations about the Biden family taking part in criminal activities, she asked the House Oversight committee chair for a status report on the whistleblowers and informants in the Biden investigation. Comer told her “Well, unfortunately, we can’t track down the informant. We’re hopeful that the informant is still there. The whistleblower knows the informant. The whistleblower is very credible.”
Comer went on to add “no president has ever been accused of the things that the Biden family’s been accused of.” But Bartiromo then interjected.
“Hold on a second, Congressman. Did you just say that the whistleblower or the informant is now missing?”
“Well, we’re hopeful that we can find the informant,” said Comer. “Remember, these informants are kind of in the spy business, so they don’t make a habit of being seen a lot or being high profile or anything like that.”
On June 15 2023, Mediaite.com covered more recent news about Comer’s “missing Biden informant,” explaining:
[In May 2023], Comer told Fox News a source of his in the investigation into the Bidens is missing.
On [the June 15 2023] edition of Hannity, Comer reported that yet another alleged source is nowhere to be found.
Fox News personality Sean Hannity asked Comer if Comer had “any contact” with an oligarch Comer described as an informant. In response, Comer said “nobody’s had any contact with him for the last three years”:
“Have you had any contact with him?” the host [Hannity] followed up.
“Unfortunately, nobody’s had any contact with him for the last three years,” Comer answered. “You know, the MSNBC makes fun of me when I said that there are a lot of people that were involved in the Biden shenanigans that are currently missing. But with respect to this oligarch, we think we know where he is. He just hasn’t been seen in public in a long time, but we’re following the money.”
Comer’s comments to Hannity also circulated in video form on Twitter:
On June 15 2023, a Washington Post article gathered assorted statements made by Comer, Grassley, and other lawmakers involved with the House Oversight Committee investigation. The outlet mentioned “tapes,” linking to a June 13 2023 statement on Grassley’s website about “recordings” involving Biden or his family members.
None of the quoted lawmakers were willing to claim that they were certain the tapes even existed:
In an interview on Newsmax, Comer admitted that he didn’t know if the tapes actually existed.
“I can confirm they were listed in the 1023 that the FBI redacted,” Comer said. “We don’t know if they’re legit or not.”
He added that “we know the foreign national claims he has them,” which itself isn’t quite right: He knows the confidential source said the executive had them at some point prior to mid-2020. But that Comer wouldn’t attest to the legitimacy of the tapes — including their alleged content — is important.
In a Newsmax interview on [June 15 2023], Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was asked about the purported tapes. (That it is right-wing Newsmax that is so energetic about the idea that the tapes exist should probably not come as a surprise.) Did they exist?
“We don’t know,” Johnson replied. “Sen. Grassley’s never said that they exist.” Instead, he continued, Grassley had simply said that the source said he’d heard they exist.
So far, every claim about Biden and bribery in this context comes down to something someone says was told by this source to the FBI after his discussions with the Ukrainian executive. In Goldman’s summary, it’s “a three-year-old, secondhand, hearsay, uncorroborated rehashing of Rudy Giuliani’s bogus allegations that he got from corrupt Ukrainian officials.”
Even a number of Republicans aren’t willing to vouch for it much more than that.
Grassley’s June 13 2023 statement was remarkably similar in content and tone:
Accordingly, Congress still lacks a full and complete picture with respect to what that document really says. That’s why it’s important that the document be made public without unnecessary redactions for the American people to see.
Let me assist for purposes of transparency.
The 1023 produced to that House Committee redacted reference that the foreign national who allegedly bribed Joe and Hunter Biden allegedly has audio recordings of his conversations with them. Seventeen total recordings.
According to the 1023, the foreign national possesses fifteen audio recordings of phone calls between him and Hunter Biden. According to the 1023, the foreign national possesses two audio recordings of phone calls between him and then-Vice President Joe Biden. These recordings were allegedly kept as a sort of insurance policy for the foreign national in case he got into a tight spot. The 1023 also indicates that then-Vice President Joe Biden may have been involved in Burisma employing Hunter Biden.
So, as I’ve repeatedly asked since going public with the existence of the 1023, what, if anything, has the Justice Department and FBI done to investigate?
The Justice Department and FBI must show their work. They no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt. It’s clear that the Justice Department and FBI will use every resource to investigate candidate Trump, President Trump and former President Trump.
Based on the facts known to Congress and the public, it’s clear that the Justice Department and FBI will use every resource to investigate candidate Trump, President Trump and former President Trump. Based on the facts known to Congress and the public, it’s clear that the Justice Department and FBI haven’t nearly had the same laser focus on the Biden family.
Special Counsel Jack Smith has used a recording against former President Trump. Well, what’s U.S. Attorney Weiss doing with respect to these alleged Joe and Hunter Biden recordings that are apparently relevant to a high-stakes bribery scheme?
A popular r/politics post on June 16 2023 bore the headline, “Comer admits nobody has heard from alleged Biden informant for three years.” “Comer” was Kentucky’s Rep. James Comer (R), Chair of the House Oversight Committee. Comer referenced a “foreign national” during an appearance on Hannity on June 15 2023, but disclosing that no one had “heard from” the “informant” in three years and complaining that MSNBC had mocked him for previously losing track of an informant. The comments were real, but we found no evidence that Comer’s claims about the Biden family had any basis in fact or reality.