“Every day this bribery scandal becomes more credible,” House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday night. The bribery scandal to which Comer is referring is the one he injected into the political conversation nearly three months ago — one alleging that President Biden took a substantial bribe from an executive with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Despite Comer’s claim, though, the allegation is not becoming more credible every day. In fact, it is no more credible now than it was in early May, when Comer and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) first introduced it. But Hannity and Comer have a vested interest in presenting the allegation as credible and a vested interest in suggesting that closed-door testimony from one of Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s former business partners, Devon Archer, added to that credibility.
At this point, it does not. And to see why it does not, consider the central argument made by Comer, Hannity and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Monday night — an argument that is easily debunked right at the start.
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The argument centers on Hunter Biden’s and Archer’s positions on the board of Burisma during the time that Joe Biden was serving as vice president.
There is no real dispute — and there has never been any real dispute — that Hunter Biden’s role was a function of his presenting himself as a conduit to his father. Instead, the debate is over the extent to which that presentation was accurate. To date, there has been no evidence tying Joe Biden to Hunter Biden’s work in any concrete way, with the White House insisting that the president wasn’t involved in Hunter Biden’s business.
The bombshell that was promised from Archer’s testimony was that Hunter Biden would sporadically call his dad while in the presence of business partners, again to reinforce his purported access. But this comports with the idea that Hunter Biden was selling this perception. The lack of evidence looping President Biden into any business decisions or profit, despite years of searching, undercuts the insinuation that Biden was corrupted by these calls. Comer and Jordan are often left simply insisting that Biden’s past denials of involvement are eroded by his having taken his son’s calls.
On Hannity’s show, Comer tried to build the case that, as vice president, Biden’s role was more significant. He claimed that Archer “said that Hunter Biden was under immense pressure while they both served on the Burisma board to call Washington, D.C., immediately and try to get [Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor] Shokin fired. And, according to Jordan’s account, five days later, Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine.” Speaking to Ukraine’s legislative body on Dec. 9, 2015, he demanded that Shokin be ousted.
Hannity repeated the timeline for his viewers: Hunter Biden, Archer and the head of Burisma, Mykola Zlochevsky, met with the board of the company in Dubai. They called Washington and, “then immediately thereafter,” Biden headed for Ukraine. Comer agreed, saying that “they were pressuring Hunter to immediately get on the phone with his father and get this stopped.”
Fine. Except that Joe Biden’s trip to Ukraine was announced in mid-November. And except that, in mid-September, the American ambassador to Ukraine elevated concerns about Shokin’s reliability in the fight against corruption — the reason Joe Biden offered for demanding that Shokin be fired.
“We need some help,” Jordan claims that Burisma executives said to Archer and Hunter Biden, referring both to Shokin and a British probe of the company. So “they make a phone call to D.C., Mr. Archer said. I don’t know who they call, but they call D.C. And five days later, Dec. 9, 2015, Joe Biden is in Ukraine and he gives a speech starting the pressure on the prosecutor in Ukraine.”
What’s important here is that Jordan admits he doesn’t know if this call in December 2015 was even placed to Joe Biden. We know that the trip wasn’t a result of the call, given the November announcement. And we know that this was not the “start” of the pressure on Shokin.
We also know that the reason Biden and the U.S. government (among other global leaders) wanted Shokin fired was that he wasn’t addressing corruption. That British probe, for example, had reportedly sought information from Shokin about Burisma … but he stonewalled them.
In a tweet summarizing Archer’s testimony, the Republican majority on the House Judiciary Committee claimed that Archer had testified that Burisma was spooked because Shokin was investigating it for corruption. Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who was present for the interview, offered a very different assessment when speaking to reporters shortly afterward.
“Burisma believed that they had the prosecutor general Shokin in their pocket, they had control over him,” he said, “and they were concerned that if he was removed from office, that that would be very bad for Burisma.”
This comports with the general understanding of the situation. After all, this was all adjudicated repeatedly in 2019, as Joe Biden’s push for Shokin to be fired was central to the first impeachment of President Donald Trump. At the time, multiple sources indicated that there was no active investigation into Burisma in that time period. And if there’s no pressure on Burisma from Shokin, there’s no reason for Burisma to seek his ouster. If he’s blocking such probes, there’s pressure on them to retain Shokin — which would have been a more plausible reason for asking Hunter Biden to call his father before the vice president’s trip.
But a source familiar with Archer’s testimony who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door, transcribed interview told The Washington Post that Archer offered a different explanation for the call.
He “testified there was a team of lobbyists and government affairs specialists Burisma hired that Archer referred to as the ‘D.C. team’ to deal, unsuccessfully, with issues including the fact Zlochevsky was denied a visa to the U.S. and Mexico,” the source explained. Archer suggested that the call may have been to that team, not the vice president. The source also indicated that Archer “made clear he was not aware of Hunter Biden ever requesting that his father undertake any official action on behalf of Burisma and explained that he was not aware of any action of the U.S. government or any U.S. official was taken to benefit Burisma or Hunter Biden.”
Goldman has called for the release of the transcript, which would help clarify this point.
Appearing on Hannity’s show, Comer and Jordan had little choice but to insist that Archer’s testimony advanced their argument. This was the guy who Comer had suggested over the weekend the Justice Department was trying to intimidate by threatening arrest — though, because Archer was sentenced to prison earlier this year for a separate fraud conviction, that detention was at some point inevitable. If you are trying to suggest that Biden’s Justice Department is so worried about his testimony that it would desperately seek his immediate detention, you have to then pretend that the testimony lived up to that fear.
Other House Republicans struggled a bit more with casting Archer’s testimony in a negative light. Oversight Committee member Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) shared on social media a 2019 text message exchange purportedly between Hunter Biden and Devon Archer. In it, Archer complains about having been arrested by Obama administration appointees. In response, Hunter Biden explains, in essence, that justice is blind — even to powerful families like the Bidens and their allies. In Greene’s presentation, this somehow was interpreted to show that Hunter Biden “and his associates would largely be shielded from the scales of justice.” Hunter Biden and Devon Archer have each been indicted on federal criminal charges.
What’s understood from the Archer testimony is that Hunter Biden sought to use the “brand” associated with his last name as leverage in business deals. That alone explains nearly everything at hand, including his calling his father out of the blue to prove to potential partners that he had the power to do so. That there’s no evidence he ever tried to get Joe Biden to do anything reinforces Archer’s other reported claim: that Hunter promoted the “illusion” of influence over Joe Biden, not actual influence.
During the first Trump impeachment probe, it was revealed that a State Department official had warned Biden about his son’s work with Burisma. It was a prescient warning, given the drama that has ensued. Once again, though, a Republican “bombshell” that was promoted as possibly inflicting devastating damage on Biden seems to have instead fizzled.