House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) is leading the charge to bring contempt of Congress proceedings against FBI Director Christopher Wray, a history-making motion that would cap his efforts to force the agency to turn over a document detailing an unverified tip.
Comer claims the document contains allegations then-Vice President Biden accepted a bribe, an assertion the White House flatly denies.
The battle over the document has brought to a boil a simmering GOP frustration with the FBI, leaving Wray at the center of the fight and the subject of a contempt hearing slate for Thursday morning.
An hour and a half long Monday briefing that provided lawmakers the chance to review the document did little to diminish Comer’s push for contempt, while he and ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) left with remarkably different conclusions about the form’s significance.
Comer said Wednesday night during an appearance on Fox News that he would continue with the hearing, even as the FBI offered to let the full committee review the document. Earlier Wednesday House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said such an offer would undercut the need for contempt.
Here’s what we know.
What’s in the underlying document and who relayed the tip?
According to Comer, the document contains information related to “an alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions.”
Comer and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) first become aware of the existence of the tip following an interview with a witness who approached the Iowa senator. That pushed Comer to issue a May subpoena for any FD-1023 forms — records of interactions with confidential sources — from June 2020 that contain the word “Biden.”
Comer offered more details in a Tuesday interview with NewsMax.
“This particular document with the FBI pertains to Ukraine,” Comer said, adding later that, “Joe Biden played a very active role during the end of the Obama administration in doling out foreign aid.”
Both Comer and Raskin said the tip came from a credible informant whom the FBI has worked with for years. But the tip relayed information the source heard from someone else.
“There’s a confidential human source that the FBI works with who has proven to be very credible, who reported a conversation with someone else. That confidential human source said that he had no way of knowing about the underlying veracity of the things that he was being told,” Raskin said Monday after leaving the briefing.
“That’s why we’re talking about secondhand hearsay, here.”
What did the FBI do with the information?
The tip, made in 2020, was brought to the attention of then-Attorney General Bill Barr, who appointed Scott Brady, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh at the time, to lead a team to investigate the claim.
Comer and Raskin offered competing information about next steps, as learned in the Monday briefing.
Comer said the tip is being used in conjunction with an ongoing probe, though he did not say which.
“This is only the beginning. It appears this investigation is part of an ongoing investigation, which I assume is in Delaware,” he said.
Raskin seemed surprised by Comer’s assertion, saying briefers said the Justice Department determined the matter did not warrant additional investigation after trying to run down the tip.
In an additional statement Wednesday, Raskin said the information stemmed from allegations first made by former Donald Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who said Biden improperly sought to aid Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company where son Hunter Biden served as a board member.
“That probe, which was formally identified as an ‘assessment’ by the FBI, conducted numerous investigative steps, including reviewing suspicious activity reports, meeting with Mr. Giuliani and interviewing at least one confidential human source. That confidential human source relayed information he heard from individuals in Ukraine that were memorialized in the form FD-1023,” Raskin said.
“In August 2020, that assessment was closed after a determination was made that there were no more investigative steps to be taken and the evidence collected did not meet FBI’s standard for opening a preliminary or full-scale investigation — namely that the assessment had not developed an articulable factual basis to reasonably indicate a crime may have occurred.”
Raskin’s account aligns with public reporting on the matter.
The White House has called the probe a smear campaign.
“This is yet another fact-free stunt staged by Chairman Comer not to conduct legitimate oversight, but to spread thin innuendo to try to damage the president politically and get himself media attention,” Ian Sams, the White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations, said in a statement Monday, going on to reference a recent media hit by Grassley.
“As Senator Grassley admitted, they aren’t ‘interested in whether or not the accusations are accurate,’ which rings even truer now that it’s been publicly reported that the Trump Administration’s Justice Department looked into this claim three years ago and found nothing credible.”
How did the FBI respond to the subpoena?
The FBI has resisted physically turning over the document to the panel out of concern for protecting the identity of the source – a case Wray made in a phone call last Wednesday when he spoke to Comer.
The FBI met twice with the committee or its staff ahead of the contempt threat, including a May 22 meeting in which the agency expressed concerns over the “chilling effect” that could result from sharing confidential reports and broke down FBI policy limiting the sharing of such material
“Confidential sources are critical to the FBI’s ability to build cases, including those against violent gangs, drug cartels, and terrorists,” the agency wrote in a subsequent May 30 letter.
The agency’s fears over the document’s release are not unfounded, as Comer said last week he would consider publicly sharing the document.
“I think it would help with you all,” Comer said of the media, going on to reference another probe that scoured Biden family business bank records but failed to show any foreign money flowing directly to Joe Biden.
“We produced bank records and a lot of the media questioned the validity or credibility of our investigation — we actually had the record — so I feel like showing the media the actual Form 1023 would help with you all’s quest to write about the proof,” he added.
The Monday briefing, which took place in a secure House facility, was an event Raskin cast as giving Comer “90 or 95 percent of what was being asked for, which was the document and all kinds of surrounding answers to questions about the document. Now, it seems like the goalposts have shifted a little bit.”
But Comer said he would continue with his contempt plans because “at the briefing, the FBI again refused to hand over the unclassified record to the custody of the House Oversight Committee.”
“Americans have lost trust in the FBI ability to enforce the law and partially,” he added.
The FBI on Monday stressed it had worked to accommodate the committee.
“The FBI has continually demonstrated its commitment to accommodate the committee’s request, including by producing the document in a reading room at the U.S. Capitol. This commonsense safeguard is often employed in response to congressional requests and in court proceedings to protect important concerns, such as the physical safety of sources and the integrity of investigations,” the agency said in a statement.
“The escalation to a contempt vote under these circumstances is unwarranted.”
Late Wednesday the FBI also made an offer to let the full committee review the FD-1023, a deal McCarthy suggested Comer should take.
“He needs to show it to every Republican and every Democrat on the committee. If he is willing to do that, then there’s not a need to have contempt. But if he doesn’t follow through with that, then there would be a need for contempt,” McCarthy said.
If the panel approves the contempt measure it will advance to the full House floor for a vote.
The gesture is largely symbolic; contempt votes serve as a referral to the Department of Justice, which is free to act on – or ignore – the suggestion as they see fit.