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The Biden ‘bribery’ allegation slips on more banana peels

Okay, so here’s what we’ve got.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and probably some other people see a document detailing a June 2020 FBI interview of a longtime informant. That informant spoke to a Ukrainian business executive who claimed to have paid bribes of millions of dollars to Joe Biden and his son Hunter at some point in time.

Grassley and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) sent a letter to the FBI demanding that the document (known as a form FD-1023) be released to the public. For a few weeks, Comer in particular gets performatively mad at the FBI for not releasing the thing, but the bureau, worried about its informant, agrees only to show it to Comer and other members of Congress in private.

There are some other asides to all of this, like Comer demanding that the FBI produce some other documents that no one is suggesting have much significance. But since that initial letter from Comer and Grassley about two months ago, no other evidence of this alleged “bribe” has emerged. And, in fact, on Thursday, the central allegation only got weaker.

We don’t know the identity of the executive with whom the informant spoke at some point before mid-2020. It seems pretty likely, though, that it’s Mykola Zlochevsky, founder of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. Burisma, you’ll recall, was at the center of the first impeachment of President Donald Trump, as he tried to defend his own alleged extortion of the Ukrainian government by claiming that, actually, it was Biden who had done so. It was not, which we’ll come back to in a second.

The evidence that the executive was Zlochevsky comes from Comer and other Republicans on the Oversight Committee. Two, Reps. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), claimed that the person with whom the informant spoke was Zlochevsky. In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity earlier this month, Comer agreed that the executive was “a high-ranking member or owner of Burisma,” which describes Zlochevsky. On Wednesday, Comer sent a letter requesting that the Treasury Department provide the committee with any reports detailing suspicious financial activity by Burisma or Zlochevsky, among a few other people.

(It’s also useful to note that, at the time of the FD-1023, Zlochevsky was accused of offering a $5 million bribe to anti-corruption officials in Ukraine — the same amount allegedly offered to the Bidens. The Ukrainian government denied that either Biden was involved in that incident.)

If the person who spoke to the informant was, in fact, Zlochevsky, Oversight ranking minority-party member Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) produced a new transcript that effectively (though not entirely) undercuts the claims contained in the 1023.

You will recall that, in 2019, Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani was actively promoting the idea that the Bidens had engaged in suspect activity related to Burisma. As part of that effort (which contributed to Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine and, subsequently, his impeachment), Giuliani had his aide Lev Parnas contact to a friend of Zlochevsky’s to answer some questions. The responses were previously reported by Politico but hadn’t been seen in their entirety until Raskin included them in a letter to Comer.

“Please detail any contacts you had with VP Joe Biden and his office from 2013 through 2019,” one question asked. “Did Hunter ever facilitate any of those contacts?”

“NO ONE FROM BURISMA EVER HAD ANY CONTACTS WITH VP BIDEN OR PEOPLE WORKING FOR HIM DURING HUNTER BIDEN’S ENGAGEMENT,” came the reply.

“Did VP Biden or his staff assist you or your company in any way with business deals or meetings with world leaders or any other assistance?” another question asked, yielding a terse reply: “NO.”

Of course, we have no way of knowing whether Zlochevsky was being entirely honest in these replies. But, then, that goes for any information he might have given the informant. Should we assume that he was being dishonest to his friend but honest with the informant? Should we assume that, particularly based on the lack of corroborating evidence for the idea that the Bidens were paid large bribes?

There’s a quote from Rudy Giuliani that’s salient here. In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, as Giuliani was pressing to find (or generate) claims about voter fraud, he summarized his predicament to an Arizona lawmaker.

“We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence,” the lawmaker described Giuliani saying during testimony before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

This is the position in which Comer finds himself. He’s got lots of theories, ones that he’s very happy to go on TV to discuss. He just doesn’t have the evidence.

Comer appeared on “Fox & Friends” on Thursday morning. Host Steve Doocy challenged Comer to explain why he called Biden part of a “crime family.”

“Make it easy for us,” Doocy said, “what was the crime?”

“The crime is trading policy for money,” Comer replied.

“Which policy?” Doocy pressed.

“Well, we’re going to get into that,” Comer replied.

Bear in mind that, the day prior, Comer told a local radio host in New York that there were six Biden policy decisions that Comer alleged had been influenced by foreign contributions. On Fox, though, he largely demurred.

He did point to the Justice Department’s curtailing an initiative aimed at uprooting Chinese spies from American universities, something Comer said happened on “day one” of Biden’s administration. But it wasn’t, as The Washington Post reported when Comer made the same claim last month. It didn’t end until 2022. What’s more, the program wasn’t ended because it targeted possible Chinese espionage but because it cast a net of suspicion over Chinese students broadly, triggering civil liberties concerns. At the time the program was ended, the Justice Department reinforced that broader efforts to stop Chinese spying continued in other forms.

All of this ignores that there’s no evidence Biden took any money from China anyway.

It seems clear that Hunter Biden had some success in parlaying his law degree and his last name into lucrative business deals. Comer and his colleagues have documented some of those deals and how Biden’s uncle and other acquaintances appear to have been included in the profits. What has not been documented, though, is that the president benefited.

Of all of Comer’s efforts to impugn Joe Biden, though, the allegation about a bribe from Ukraine is among the flimsiest. As time passes, one would expect evidence to accrue that it had happened. Instead, evidence is accruing that it didn’t.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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