One can think of the claims presented by House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) as though they are the experiments of a ninth-grade physics class.
The assignment is simple: Build a contraption that will ensure an egg survives a fall from the roof of the school. So Comer and his friends get together and sketch out little parachutes and agree that the parachutes will work great and talk about how cool the different little parachutes are.
They build the parachutes and take them over to Fox News’s desk and Fox News takes the eggs and puts them in the parachute and holds it one hand over the other and lets go: the egg survived! What a parachute! Going to hype this parachute for a few days until you come up with a new one.
Sometimes, though, Comer or one of his buddies has to take the egg to the actual roof. Maybe Comer thinks some of the parachutes will actually work; probably he knows that a lot of them won’t. But either way, the teacher holds them over the edge of the building and subjects them to reality.
Ssssssssssplat. Over and over and over again. Different eggs and different parachutes but the same result.
Thanks to his incessant chatter about his parachutes and how cool they are, Comer has — despite this pattern — built a reputation with his peers as a really great parachute-maker. A lot of them have only heard Comer talk about his parachutes or have only seen the Fox News tests of the parachutes, so they really think he’s got it, he’s a master of Newtonian physics. Asked to head to the roof for their own tests, they simply grab the parachutes that Comer’s made. Bad move.
On Thursday morning, Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) put some to the test. Murphy appeared on CNN to discuss subpoenas issued by Comer’s Oversight Committee to President Biden’s son Hunter and the president’s brother, James. Murphy sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, which, along with Oversight and Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) Judiciary Committee, is tasked with leading the stalled impeachment investigation into the president.
Murphy was asked by host John Berman whether he would vote to hold the Bidens in contempt should they not comply with the subpoena. “Absolutely,” Murphy replied. Then he got out the parachute.
“You know, here’s the deal, John,” he said with the confidence of a guy who has never seen Comer’s physics experiments at work. “It’s very, very clear. Why … would Hunter and Jim create 20 shell companies to not — to be legal? We’ve seen time and time again — and Representative Comer has proved this — there was money, influencing peddling that Biden had during his last couple of years as vice president. And then after, right afterwards, they wanted to gain the money back.”
Comer likes to talk about the “shell companies,” ignoring that a number are simply corporate entities like one that serves as the structure for Hunter Biden’s law firm and another that’s a consulting company he ran. The Washington Post examined each of these “20 shell companies” finding that — despite Murphy’s insinuations — they were created because this is how business structures often work. (Comer tends not to talk about the much more extensive web of corporations controlled by the Trump Organization, which might have given Murphy pause.)
Comer also has not by any stretch proved that there was influence peddling by Joe Biden. That’s the crux of what he wants to prove and what his investigations are pointed toward. He’s shown, with an abundance of evidence, the already-obvious efforts by Hunter Biden to leverage his last name as he sought out business deals — but has also accrued numerous sworn statements from former Hunter Biden partners that Joe Biden wasn’t involved in the effort. (Among those drawing that line was Devon Archer.)
Berman, however, took the conversation in a different direction. He asked Murphy why he’d vote to hold Hunter or James Biden in contempt when he voted against holding former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon in contempt in 2021 after Bannon failed to provide testimony to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Murphy did not have a good answer.
“Well, I think it’s a little bit different when you have a president of the United States,” he said. “We have somebody who’s not an elected official. You know, the president of the United States was selling his influence, his son was selling his influence—”
Berman interjected: “I don’t understand. We’re talking—”
“It’s a little bit different of standards, John, when you have somebody who’s in elected office,” Murphy continued, “versus somebody who’s not in elected office.”
Berman soon made the obvious point: Hunter Biden was also not in elected office.
Both Berman and Murphy know the real answer, of course: Bannon is on the Republican “team” and Hunter Biden is on the Democratic side, and that’s the difference. But here again, Murphy seems to be deploying one of Comer’s contraptions, looping the current president broadly into a nefarious group called “the Bidens.” Berman, to his credit, tried to separate the actual question (should Hunter Biden be held in contempt) from Murphy’s answer (this is different because of Joe Biden).
Murphy came back to that point.
“Think about this, John,” he said. “If you’ve seen the inf — the facts, the facts that have occurred, we see that there’s been influence peddling. I mean, the president of the United States, vice president at the time, said, point blank, ‘If you don’t fire the prosecutor, I’m going to withhold money.’ So that’s a crooked deal in as itself.”
This claim centers on comments made by Biden at a Council on Foreign Relations event in 2018. Out of office, he was describing how he’d put pressure on Ukraine to fire a corrupt prosecutor who had been targeted for ouster by the international community. Biden told Ukraine’s president that the United States would withhold loan guarantees unless the prosecutor was fired; he was fired a bit later.
In 2019, when Trump was under investigation for attempting to leverage his power to force Ukraine to announce an investigation into Biden, this incident was thoroughly discussed and explained. The corrupt prosecutor came out to claim that he was fired only because Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian company the prosecutor was investigating, but months of investigations determined that the prosecutor was not targeting that company. (In fact, Archer told Comer’s committee that he’d been told the firing of the prosecutor was bad for the company.)
Lots of people ignored this debunking, allowing Comer and his allies to resuscitate the claim as they tried to create a grand narrative of wrongdoing by Biden. But it hasn’t gotten more true in the intervening years, and this assertion by Murphy does nothing but reveal that he’s putting his faith in the wrong parties.
Luckily for Murphy, he didn’t have an opportunity to try out some of Comer’s other gravity-defying offerings, like the unsubstantiated bribery allegation against Biden. Vivek Ramaswamy tried that one out during the Republican primary debate Wednesday night, and was asked about it afterward by CNN. Splat. Nor did Murphy get into Comer’s new claims about how Biden “benefited” from his brother’s business deals because those deals … allowed James Biden to repay a loan the president had extended him.
One of the advantages that Comer enjoys as he goes about his work trying to denigrate the president is that everyone in his party wants very much for him to succeed. They want to think that their guy has cracked the code of gravity. They want to believe that he’s got the goods on the president. Maybe someday he will. He doesn’t now. But he keeps telling everyone he does and to trust him, if they just use his parachutes, they’ll ace the class.
And then they keep failing.