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Blind Oversight

James Comer is trying very hard to tie the president to the investigation of Hunter Biden.

Rep. James Comer, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, conduct a news conference on the investigation into the Biden family on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

James Comer is making Adam Schiff look like Lt. Columbo.

Comer, the House Oversight Committee chairman took a swan dive Sunday into some very murky waters, telling Fox News that he he had lost track of  an “informant” identified by a “whistleblower” he had promised weeks ago would reveal “an alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President [Joe] Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions.” 

Schiff, the camera-hungry huckster who led the House Intelligence Committee in the Trump era, who dangled the promise of ever-juicier stories of corruption before the salivating press corps, knows the move. Overpromise, underdeliver, and if ever called to account for the flop, just triple down with claims of even greater conspiracies.  

The object of the great quest of House Republicans today is to show that the crass buckraking in which the president’s son Hunter engaged leads back to his father. That’s been the idea since the younger Biden’s laptop surfaced at a Delaware computer repair shop weeks before the 2020 election and its contents revealed the very high price of Hunter Biden’s low living. Without the direct connection to the president, the story is about the scams of the drug-addicted adult son of a politician. With the elder Biden’s involvement, the story would destroy the incumbent’s claim to honorable public service. 

If Joe Biden were proven to have been on the take, it would mitigate much of the argument against Republican 2024 frontrunner Donald Trump as an amoral scoundrel. As Republicans argued in 2016, if both candidates are dirty, why not vote for the one with the policies you prefer? That could bring lots of moderate conservatives repulsed by Trump’s many misdeeds back into play. 

Last week, Comer again ratcheted up his rhetoric. This time saying that “the president has been involved in this from the very beginning,” Comer laid out a memo that during the Obama administration, Hunter Biden had been the conduit for $10 million from shady foreign nationals that flowed to himself and other family members, including his widowed sister-in-law, who was also for a time his lover. It’s all very tawdry stuff, but only adding detail to what we already knew: Hunter Biden was a national embarrassment who tried to grift a living off of his famous name. 

The big stuff, though, Comer promised, was coming from what he and his fellow House Republicans alleged was a whistleblower who could show the FBI was covering up credible claims from an informant who could put the corruption right in the lap of the sitting president.

But in an interview this week, Comer said, “unfortunately, we can’t track down the informant.”

“We’re hopeful that we could find the informant. Remember, these informants are kind of in the spy business, so they don’t make a habit of being seen a lot or being high profile or anything like that,” he said. 

Maybe the informant has the pee-pee tape, too.

Congressional oversight is always political, and where there are politics, there will be publicity and efforts to shape public opinion. 

The power to shed light on and direct public attention to corruption, incompetence, and abuse inside the federal government is the second most important tool that Congress has to hold the executive branch to account.

But the first power is financial and functional. The idea of oversight is that the Congress is overseeing the use of funds and authority it has appropriated for various tasks. If an agency or official is not doing what the law has directed it to do with the money and imprimatur provided by the legislative branch, the lawmakers might take those things away.

A variation of this is on display these days from Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who is using his position to throw up a blockade against military promotions for generals and admirals to punish the Pentagon for its new abortion policy. 

The Department of Defense now provides travel funds and support for troops and their dependents seeking to terminate a pregnancy but who are posted in states where elective abortion has been restricted since the fall of Roe v. Wade. Senior military posts require Senate approval, which is normally granted by unanimous consent on big slates of candidates. By refusing to go along, Tuberville could force the Senate to take up an estimated 650 promotions by individual vote this year, snagging the military and the Congress in a procedural snarl for months.

Lots of people are upset by Tuberville’s tactic, which is proving a significant distraction for his party and bringing lots of new and unpleasant scrutiny for the senator and his views on the military. On the upside for Tuberville, the focus on him also draws eyes to the military’s new abortion rules, including from the large numbers of Americans who oppose taxpayer funding for abortion

But the publicity isn’t the main point. 

The attention comes at a cost to Tuberville who, though perhaps getting brownie points with many voters in staunchly anti-abortion Alabama, is putting himself at odds with his state’s considerable military community. The point is to make himself obnoxious to the military and his fellow senators to such a degree that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin caves in and drops the abortion subsidies. Agree or disagree with the senator, he is using his position in the manner it was designed to be employed. His critics say he is interfering with military readiness and congressional procedure, which is exactly what he means to do. He is inflicting and absorbing pain in hopes of attaining a policy goal. 

But oversight without consequences is just a press conference by other means. 

Comer’s fellow oversight committee member, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, is cool with that, though. She has a plan to bring the prostitutes that Hunter Biden patronized in front of the committee.

“We’re going to track down these women and talk to them and if there is a credible reason that we need to bring them in front of the Oversight Committee then absolutely we will do that. Especially when it involves our national security,” she told the New York Post.

“I’ve been talking about it with Chairman Comer and we’re already working in that direction.”

Woof.

Parading prostitutes before committee cameras wouldn’t bring us anywhere closer to knowing about Joe Biden’s financial history, and it probably wouldn’t even move many voters. But it would sure be a helluva show, which may be enough for a Congress that has largely forgotten how to use its power for things other than being famous.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.