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Unraveling the GOP mystery allegation against Biden

“As Vice President Joe Biden sold his influence to the highest bidder. He is unfit to be President of the United States.”

— Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), in a tweet, May 4

“It is a very serious allegation. I wish I could say that I knew it was true or untrue.”

— Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), in an interview on Newsmax, May 3

A vague request by GOP lawmakers for the FBI to make public a document allegedly about President Biden has led to feverish speculation in the right-wing media and innuendo by some members of Congress, such as Stefanik. The White House has dismissed the report as yet another in a long line of failed efforts by Republicans to implicate Biden in illegal activity.

Here’s a guide to the story as it now stands, based on interviews with congressional staff members.

Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, and Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, on May 3 sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland saying that they had obtained information through “whistleblower disclosures” that somewhere in the bowels of bureaucracy exists “an unclassified FD-1023 form” that alleges Biden, as vice president, received money from a foreign national in exchange for favorable policy decisions. They said the document included “a precise description of how the alleged criminal scheme was employed as well as its purpose.”

Comer’s committee issued a subpoena for the document with unusual specificity — indicating that the document was created in June 2020 — which suggests the lawmakers are certain the form exists. But neither the letter nor the subpoena reveals the country or policies in question.

“The FBI needs to explain whether it’s accurate or not,” Grassley said in a May 3 interview on Fox News. “But this is based upon information that we get from what I think are very credible sources within the department.”

The FBI has not commented on the letter.

An FD-1023 form is used to record information from a person the FBI considers a “confidential human source” (CHS). That means it would not be a tip from an unknown walk-in — that would result in an internal summary known as an FD-302 form — but someone who had been vetted and assessed by the FBI as potentially helpful for investigations.

Still, such sources can be unreliable and any such statements are basically unverified tips. Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele was a CHS during the FBI’s investigation of possible links between the Trump administration and Russian operatives; he even received payments for his information. He was fired for cause after talking to the media — and many of the allegations he made turned out to be wrong.

At this point, the claim about Biden can only be labeled as unsubstantiated — though that hasn’t stopped some Republicans from falsely suggesting Biden is all but convicted.

That is unclear. The Grassley-Comer letter notes that the allegation is so specific that the Justice Department and FBI should have had enough information “to determine the truth and accuracy of the information” contained in the document. The subpoena requests forms that might be in open or closed files, as well as “restricted access case files.” That suggests that lawmakers wonder whether the report, once received, had been stored in a way that would make it more difficult for investigators working on other cases to access it.

The date of the report, June 2020, suggests it was received during the Trump administration, just months before the presidential election. Given Donald Trump’s continuing efforts to tag Biden with criminal activity, it might be surprising if Justice Department officials had decided not to pursue it.

The letter does not name the country. In a May 4 interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Comer said: “I know the country and I know the policy decisions but I am not at liberty to say.”

John Solomon, a onetime Washington Post reporter who now runs the conservative news site Just the News and is a Trump ally, reported that “multiple officials” said the matter “involves transactions and policy tied to Ukraine that date to when Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president.”

As vice president, Biden was tasked with managing relations with Ukraine, but he was carrying out policies developed at the State Department and coordinated with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Interestingly, in June 2020, hacked conversations of Biden speaking with Ukrainian officials when he was vice president appeared on the conservative network One America News — tapes that the New York Times said “had been edited in misleading ways” to make the conversations appear nefarious.

In 2020, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani actively sought information in Ukraine to discredit Biden, with a particular focus on any connections between Biden’s public anticorruption efforts in the country and his son Hunter Biden’s lucrative service on the board of a gas company owned by an oligarch who had been the target of anticorruption probes. U.S. intelligence agencies had warned the Trump White House that Giuliani was the target of an influence operation by Russian intelligence, The Washington Post reported.

It’s worth recalling that Trump’s first impeachment concerned his effort to link more aid for the country to having the Ukrainian government investigate Biden’s actions in the country as vice president. Republicans have never given up trying to prove Trump had a reason for doing so.

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This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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