Congress may still be in recess, but House Republicans’ investigations into the Bidens—as well as their defense of Donald Trump against the “weaponization” of the criminal justice system—have kept pace with the news cycle.
Last week, Rep. James Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) asking for unredacted access to some of Joe Biden’s old emails, many of which are already public.
Comer specifically highlighted one particular May 2016 email in his letter as “concerning” to the committee because Biden’s son Hunter was copied on it. An attachment to that email included then-Vice President Joe Biden’s schedule for the next day, and the email mentioned preparation for a morning phone call between him and “Pres Poroshenko”—Petro Poroshenko, who was then the president of Ukraine. The U.S. relationship with Ukraine was part of Joe Biden’s portfolio of responsibilities during the Obama administration.
Hunter Biden’s work email address was copied on the email, raising questions for Comer’s committee, which is investigating influence peddling by the Biden family. Even though much of the information related to the emails is already public, an Oversight Committee aide says unredacted information from NARA—including attachments and personal information not found in the laptop files or public Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) releases—could provide more clarity.
One noteworthy part of Comer’s request concerns pseudonyms used by Joe Biden when he was vice president, “including but not limited to Robert Peters, Robin Ware, and JRB Ware.”
The fact that the vice president would use pseudonymous email accounts is not in itself unusual. For spam and security reasons, high-ranking government officials often avoid using easily guessable email addresses in their work. For example, if the only email address for the vice president was her first name and last name at whitehouse.gov, there would be too many messages for the account to be used for any meaningful work. That doesn’t mean covert or unorthodox email usage can’t cause problems—just ask Hillary Clinton or Karl Rove—but some pseudonym use is common practice.
The Oversight Committee wants to know whether and to what extent Joe Biden’s use of email pseudonyms was abnormal.
During the Obama administration, the Associated Press reported on “secret” email accounts being used by presidential appointees, but the White House reassured the press that “they’re all available for when FOIA requests are made and congressional inquiries are conducted.” Thus far, that seems to be what’s happening with Robert L. Peters. Of the millions of vice presidential records, NARA publicly posts only a small snapshot on its website—and what’s included in that snapshot is largely determined by FOIA requests themselves.
Last year, America First Legal—a 501(c)(3) organization founded by former Trump adviser Stephen Miller—sued NARA over a FOIA request seeking information about vice presidential email records possibly pertaining to Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine. This year, redacted versions of the documents Miller’s organization requested have been published to NARA’s website, making it easy to confirm the Robert L. Peters government email address as Joe Biden’s.
Unlike Robert Peters, the other pseudonyms—Robin Ware and JRB Ware—were private, not .gov accounts. While there aren’t any rules against White House officials having private accounts, using them for official government business can present some security risks and ethics concerns. It’s not clear whether Joe Biden ever improperly used his personal email accounts for government business, which is one reason the committee is asking for more information.
Regardless, all three pseudonyms were known to be Joe Biden’s well before Miller’s FOIA request because they were among the emails on a laptop Hunter Biden abandoned at a Delaware tech repair shop in 2019, many of which are available online. For example, the May 2016 “Friday Schedule Card” email is among those released by “Marco Polo,” a self-described “non-profit research group exposing corruption & blackmail.” (The Dispatch cannot independently verify the authenticity of the emails put out by Marco Polo, but the “Friday Schedule Card” email does match what has been released by NARA.)
“The nature of our investigation is not so easily spliced between professional and personal—in fact, that’s exactly what our investigation is, is the commingling of official and the personal,” says the Oversight Committee aide. “So what might be deemed personal for a FOIA release might be very relevant actually for what this committee is trying to understand.”
While Republicans worry that Hunter was getting uncomfortably close to official communications about his father’s policy work on behalf of the government, his inclusion in the email is open to interpretation. The British tabloid The Independent reported that the email in question was sent around the time of the one-year anniversary of the death of Beau Biden—Hunter’s brother and Joe’s son—“which would have provided a reason for Hunter Biden to be kept aware of his father’s schedule,” according to The Independent report.
One of Hunter Biden’s former business partners, Devon Archer—who, along with another associate, Eric Schwerin, was listed in Comer’s letter to NARA—testified to lawmakers earlier this summer that, although Hunter sold the “illusion of access” to his father, he was not aware of Hunter ever discussing business with his father or influencing U.S. policy.
But as House Republicans’ appetite for an impeachment inquiry into President Biden gets bigger, the Oversight Committee is continuing to dig.
“The real crux here is the inclusion of the vice president’s son when it comes to an issue that he was, you know, running points on,” the Oversight Committee aide says. “The nature of oversight is making requests so we can get more information.”
In the letter, Comer asked NARA to respond by August 31, but the aide says a longer timeline might be possible as long as the agency appears to be making progress toward meeting the committee’s requests.