Perhaps the most revealing part of the New York Times’s lengthy look at House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) comes at the very end. The Times reporters spent a substantial amount of time talking to Comer, with the legislator at one point describing an encounter he’d had with a traffic cop.
The officer “had recently pulled him over for speeding,” Jonathan Swan and Luke Broadwater write of Comer, “but let him go when he realized who he had nabbed — only after leaning in to ask one question”: “We going to get [President] Biden or not?”
It’s a revealing anecdote on multiple levels, including one that Comer appears not to appreciate. Here’s a guy tasked with stopping malfeasance who is unconcerned about applying that scrutiny to his friends but, instead, with seeing the Democratic president undermined. And he’s being pulled over by a local cop.
Comer is in a position as head of the House Oversight Committee where he admittedly doesn’t have much room to roam. The committee is populated by many of the most energetic camera-magnets in the House Republican caucus, a group that is demonstrably more focused on attacking Biden for Fox News hits and viral tweets than conducting actual oversight. Even if Comer intended the committee’s probe of members of Biden’s family to be a sober, careful consideration of available evidence, he would have to do so while keeping people like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) from getting out over their skis.
But there’s little evidence Comer intends the probe to do that. He’s a regular on cable news himself, where he’s prone to making news outside of the conservative media bubble for things like claiming that the Chinese spy balloon might be delivering a bioweapon attack or suggesting that the National Archives were politically biased against former president Donald Trump. His appearances on Fox News and Fox Business have often centered on various guppies ensnared in his committee’s fishing-trawler-size sweep of Biden, his family and business partners of Biden’s son Hunter.
Instead of accruing evidence and sharing vetted new details, Comer shares everything, everywhere, recognizing that the act of taking investigatory steps is conflated in the public understanding with making important progress in an investigation. He knows generating questions that might have alarming answers is as useful in ginning up enthusiasm for his work as actually having those questions answered.
Consider his committee’s recent coup: the revelation that another member of Biden’s family had received payments from a business partner, Rob Walker, who had received money from a Chinese corporate entity. Comer and the Republican majority on the committee produced a four-page memo full of the names of LLCs and dollar signs followed by various numbers and multiple commas. It included lots of intonations about what the committee still hoped to learn — and, unbeknown to a casual observer — a rehash of a lot of previously reported financial information, including from The Washington Post.
That Joe Biden’s daughter-in-law Hallie Biden had received two payments in 2017 from Walker became the focus of multiple stories by the New York Post, heavily invested in Hunter Biden narratives since October 2020. But there’s no explanation for the payments to Hallie Biden. Despite the memo’s efforts to suggest that the payments were downstream from the money from China, the memo also fails to address the fact that one of the payments to Hallie Biden preceded that Chinese money transfer. But, of course, a committee aide who was speaking to the New York Post suggested that the money coming before the transfer raised “many questions” by itself — since the point is raising questions, not answering them.
At least the memo had something concrete. Comer went on Fox News this weekend (an appearance dutifully covered by the New York Post) to tell host Maria Bartiromo that there might be “as many as 11 more deals” involving Walker, but that “we don’t know what those deals are with the Bidens.” No reason not to run to Fox News with that update, certainly.
It’s nearly all innuendo, a big corkboard with lots of pictures but little interconnecting string. Comer’s admitted as much, saying at various points in time that he’s looking for evidence of wrongdoing, not responding to such evidence. His approach is, in essence, that it’s irresponsible not to consider even the wispiest, most invisible threads as possible indications that the chief executive has been compromised.
If the president is a Democrat, that is. Comer and the Republican majority ended lengthy probes into Trump and one into his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Both men, of course, have demonstrated business ties to foreign actors, including a massive deal with interests in Saudi Arabia. When a Times reporter noted that investigating Kushner might be politically fraught, Comer replied that he didn’t disagree.
This is all as unambiguous as that deputy sheriff’s approach to policing speeding in Kentucky. Comer is ambitious, and it has served him well. But his reputation for being politically evenhanded is less useful in this moment than using his perch to try to “get” Biden — or, at least, to constantly talk about how such a getting is underway. The base of the Republican Party has shown little appetite for waiting to see if anything turns up to implicate Biden; the appetite instead is to treat the oversight committee like an episode of “CSI” in which the question is proving the case, not identifying the culprit.
It’s a fishing expedition, live-streamed. Maybe, in the end, Comer will get to pose with an impressive trophy fish. But what seems to matter the most in the interim is how many viewers he and the majority can get.