How the Surveillance Republicans Keep Their Conspiracy Alive
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For now, the fight is centered on a request made by House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and Senate Budget Committee Member Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) , earlier this month. The couple sent a letter to the FBI along with a subpoena from Oversight, for an FD-1023 form containing the term “Biden.” In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity this week, Comer alleged that there were so many documents responding to this request that they were forced to narrow the request: any document mentioning Biden “and the word ‘five million dollar “.”
If you think it’s vague, don’t worry. In their initial letter, Comer and Grassley made a specific allegation.
The form, they wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray, “describes an alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Biden and a foreign national regarding the exchange of money for decisions policies”.
In other words, he alleges a bribe. Allegedly.
This letter was not private. Comer and Grassley sent out a press release about the request, enclosing the letter and the subpoena for the media to consume. And at least one medium has consumed it. Since early May, Fox News has mentioned “bribery” or “bribery” more than 100 times in the context of Biden. Despite the lack of further information about the alleged bribe in the following four weeks.
Comer and Grassley insist it’s because the FBI is obstructing them. But, in a statement to Hannity, the FBI explained why it was not providing any such documents to congressional leaders.
“Disclosure of confidential source information could potentially compromise investigations and put lives at risk,” he explained. “The FBI remains committed to cooperating with congressional oversight requests on this and other issues, as we always have.”
On air, Hannity only read that last part of the statement aloud, to the muttered disbelief of his audience. He added, “Well, then put it back” — as if the reason for not putting it back wasn’t given in the first sentence.
An FD-1023 form looks like this. (This is a redacted version related to another case made public by the FBI.)
You can see that it includes three components. There is a header that includes information about the FBI agent conducting the interview and the time and place the interview was conducted. (You can see an example here.) There’s the source report, which details the information gleaned from the interview. And, finally, there is a section for agents to sign.
In other words, it is a document that records an allegation and nothing else. This is the argument the FBI used to deny the request for release in the first place.
“An FD-1023 form documents information given to an FBI agent online. Recording the information does not validate the information, establish its credibility, or compare it to other information known or developed by the FBI,” FBI Acting Deputy Director Christopher Dunham wrote earlier. this month. “The mere existence of such a document would establish little beyond the fact that a confidential human source provided information and the FBI recorded it.”
Comer would later tell Fox’s Maria Bartiromo that his request to the FBI included asking “what did you do to investigate this allegation”, although this was not included in the actual request. But the FBI statement to Hannity covers that anyway.
Given that the FBI is currently a favorite target of the political right — an offshoot of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine various investigations into his activities — Comer and Grassley insisted the Bureau was intentionally blocking them and inappropriate way. Comer was on the Hannity show so as not to dwell on their request (or: not only do this) but to discuss the possibility of holding the FBI in contempt of Congress.
Remember, there is no public information supporting the idea that this form even exists beyond the claims of House Republicans. That they believe such a form exists, of course, suggests that someone told them about it. And, speaking to Hannity, Comer suggested someone did. When asked if there could be multiple sources alleging a payment system for the game, Comer replied, in essence, maybe – but that “the name of the informant is confidential”.
Indicating that there is an informant. (We should acknowledge that Comer’s reliability in discussing such an informant is shaky; in Bartiromo’s interview he claimed the informant was “disappeared”, but then his staff clarified that he was talking about someone else.)
The existence of an informant would have, in the past, meant that Republicans would have at least some corroboration to their claims. After all, it was once the policy of the House Oversight Committee to share information about whistleblowers between parties. Under Comer’s leadership, however, this is no longer the case.
Previously agreed guidelines stated that whistleblowers claiming the majority of the committee would be asked to share their information with the minority. If they refused to do so, the majority pledged not to publicly disclose the information without first sharing it with the minority.
There is a transcript of what was alleged by the whistleblower; Comer told Hannity earlier this month that he had read such a document. It was not provided to the Democrats on the committee.
In a statement to The Washington Post, a spokesperson for the Democratic minority on the committee suggested that Comer was simply hiding the ball.
“[I]In an effort to maximize innuendo on Fox News and dodge responsibility, President Comer has continued to insist that he has secret evidence that he has withheld from committee Democrats and the American public,” reads- one partly in the press release. “These tactics reflect the Republicans’ desire to arm the Committee to achieve their political goals instead of engaging in responsible oversight.”
At the very least, the fact that Republicans are unwilling to share the allegation doesn’t suggest much confidence that it will stand up to skeptical scrutiny.
We could step back and note that even the limited information we know invites such scrutiny. There was an allegation made to the FBI in June 2020 involving a man who had just become the Democratic presidential candidate? It is not difficult to imagine a motivation for such a claim to emerge at this time. But that of course hasn’t deterred the conservative media from embracing the story.
There may be a legitimate accusation detailing actual wrongdoing that sits with the FBI or even is currently being investigated by it. After all, a whistleblower complaint filed in the summer of 2019 ultimately led to Donald Trump’s impeachment.
But that complaint was detailed, submitted to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, and then passed — over White House objections — to members of the congressional committee. It took Atkinson less than a month to verify the information and determine that it warranted an escalation. Ten days after briefing Congress, he was briefing members of Congress behind closed doors.
We don’t know any more now about the alleged Biden allegation than we knew when Comer and Grassley first wrote their letter. three weeks ago. Neither do congressional Democrats. So this same idea – maybe something happened? – lingers.