Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Republicans tout recordings in Biden investigation


As Donald Trump headed to a federal courthouse in Miami to turn himself in, Republicans on Capitol Hill were touting recordings that they say were made by a Ukrainian oligarch which may implicate President Joe Biden in an alleged “criminal bribery scheme.” If the allegations are true, it would be devastating for President Biden and might well lead to impeachment, but I have questions.

The Washington Times detailed the claims made by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Per the report, Grassley said that a redacted FBI report revealed that “the foreign national who allegedly bribed Joe and Hunter Biden allegedly has audio recordings of his conversations with them — 17 such recordings.”

shallow focus photo of white paper sheet mounted on cork board

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The FBI report, an FD-1023 form that memorializes tips from confidential human sources, allegedly came from Mykola Zlochevsky, the Ukrainian owner of Burisma, an energy company that once employed Hunter Biden as a board member.

Sources told the Washington Times that the report discussed an alleged payment of $5 million each to Joe and Hunter Biden by Zlochevsky and said that the bribery scheme would take 10 years to unravel because of the number of bank accounts involved.

Back in 2020, Reuters reported that Ukrainian officials had acknowledged a $5 million dollar bribe to end the Burisma investigation, but they denied any connection to the Bidens. The money was seized by the government and arrests were made.

“Let’s put an end to this once and for all. Biden Jr. and Biden Sr. do not appear in this particular proceeding,” Nazar Kholodnytsky, head of anti-corruption investigations at the prosecution service, said at the time.

Joe Biden was allegedly referred to as “the big guy” on the recordings, the same phrase that came up in another Hunter Biden deal involving Chinese businesses.

Republicans said that the plot was part of Biden’s effort to fire Victor Shokin, a Ukrainian prosecutor, but these allegations have been debunked many times. Recall that Joe Biden was vice president at the time and did not set US policy towards Ukraine. also notes that the US was not alone in seeking to oust Shokin. Our European allies and Ukrainian anti-corruption advocates wanted Shokin out, not because he was too aggressive but because he was too lax in prosecuting corruption cases. There is also no evidence that Shokin was investigating Hunter Biden or Burisma. (There was a Ukrainian investigation that came later at Shokin’s request that was closed without finding wrongdoing.)

Grassley said that the foreign national referenced in the form, which dates back to 2020, “possesses 15 audio recordings of phone calls between him and Hunter Biden” and “two audio recordings of phone calls between him and then-Vice President Joe Biden.”

From what Grassley says, it isn’t clear if the FBI agents involved heard any of these recordings or if the FBI possesses copies, but it seems likely that the existence of the recordings is simply a matter of the word of the foreign national, who may or may not be the head of Burisma.

Further, Grassley said that the report on the claim “also indicates that then-Vice President Joe Biden may [emphasis mine] have been involved in Burisma employing Hunter Biden.”

The word “may” carries a lot of implications here. It suggests to me that Grassley does not know exactly what the report and the recordings contain and he’s not sure that it directly implicates Joe Biden in anything.

This is similar to the “Biden family” allegations that Republicans made at a press conference last month. The claims were long on allegations about other Bidens but short of any evidence that laws had been broken or direct connections to Joe. It was a lot of conjecture.

Since then, Republicans have been trying to get a full copy of the FBI form, which Grassley apparently learned about through a whistleblower complaint in 2022. Rep. James Comer (R- Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, issued a subpoena for the document and ultimately threatened to hold Trump-appointed FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt. Last week, the FBI compromised by allowing the full Oversight Committee to view the unredacted report. It isn’t clear if this meeting has taken place yet.

There are legitimate reasons for the FBI not to release the unredacted report. A cardinal rule of intelligence and law enforcement work is to protect your sources. Further, the mere fact that the FBI recorded the tip does not mean that the information passed along was accurate. Finally, the report is reportedly being used in an ongoing investigation and the FBI generally plays such cards close to its collective chest.

Numerous outlets reported that Grassley and Comer both admit that they didn’t know what was in the report prior to the meeting with Wray. Again, there’s a lot of conjecture both about what is in the report and about what it means.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there is no place for conjecture about possible corruption, but I am saying that Republicans shouldn’t overstate the case based on the evidence that they have so far. Republicans have a long history of making extraordinary claims about the corruption of Democratic politicians and then failing to follow up with extraordinary evidence that would allow those claims to stand up in court, their newfound philosophical objections to prosecuting (or persecuting) political opponents notwithstanding.

The FBI report is more of a point to begin an investigation than a place to trumpet the facts of Biden’s corruption. And in fact, this investigation, both in Congress and the Department of Justice, has been ongoing for quite a while. A Trump-era investigation of the Bidens by House Republicans failed to turn up any criminal wrongdoing and a parallel investigation by the Trump DOJ of the tipster’s allegations failed to uncover corroborating evidence. Ultimately, the investigation was closed, but I will be the first to point out that failure to find supporting evidence is not automatic proof that the claims were false. (There is also an ongoing federal investigation of Hunter Biden and a special counsel investigation of Joe.)

The core difference between the allegations against Joe Biden and those against Donald Trump is that the Trump investigation is complete (at least with respect to his mishandling of classified documents). The audio recording of Donald Trump showing classified documents to unauthorized personnel is in the government’s possession and has been admitted into evidence. We don’t even know if the alleged recordings of the Bidens even exist.

I absolutely support an investigation into the allegations against Biden. If the president is corrupt, we need to know about it. However, I don’t support unnecessarily dragging the investigation out for years while opposition politicians make unsubstantiated allegations based upon supposition. The various investigations into the Bidens have been going in since at least 2018 with little to show. (And for the record, I thought that many of the statements made about Trump by people like Adam Schiff (D-Cal.) were out of line as well.)

I’m willing to consider the possibility that Joe Biden is corrupt, but so far, the evidence does not match the hype. That stands in contrast to the evidence against Donald Trump, which is damning if the indictment is accurate (and I have no reason to believe that it isn’t.)

The fundamental problem is that most people don’t wait for the evidence. Evidence is less important than whether the politician in question has a (D) or an (R) after his name. Rather than looking at party affiliation and sensationalist claims, we should be looking at the facts of each case individually. And I mean hard facts and not spin and conjecture presented by political outlets or congressmen.

That is the attitude that our justice system was founded upon.

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TIM SCOTT TURNS ON TRUMP: Tim Scott became the latest Republican candidate to criticize Donald Trump in the wake of the unsealing of the indictment against The Former Guy. Scott told supporters at a campaign appearance that the indictment represented a “serious case with serious allegations,” per the Post and Courier.

Nevertheless, Scott quickly pivoted to an attack on Joe Biden and accused the Justice Department of “targeting and hunting Republicans.”

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TRUMP VISITS DAVE’S AREA: Over the weekend, Donald Trump addressed the Georgia Republican Convention in Columbus. We live nearby and my wife and daughter wanted to check out the excitement so we went to the airport to catch a glimpse of the Trumpjet.

Both I and the crowd were well-behaved, although I did make sure not to wear a red hat. The crowd was larger than the crowd that came to see off Joe Biden in 2020, but to be fair, that was at the height of the pandemic and Biden does not preside over a personality cult. In both cases, the VIP drove straight to the plane and did not address the crowd.

Photo by David Thornton (all rights reserved)

I was even nice and polite when I heard someone yell, “We love you, MTG!”

My daughter said I growled at that point, but I’m pretty sure I just said, “Are you serious?” in an exasperated tone, not having realized that the congresswoman from QAnon was present.

My wife asked her for a picture with me, but we both declined.

Photo by David Thornton (all rights reserved)

As a matter of trivia, I’ve seen Trump’s plane many times. We would often see it when we flew into LaGuardia or West Palm Beach. One company I worked for had stock lockers (filled with staples for the airplanes) in the same hangar at Teterboro, N.J. where the Trumpcopter was parked.

I took a few pictures of the old Trumpjet, an MD-11, and his new Boeing 757 over the years.

Photo by David Thornton (all rights reserved)

On one occasion, we were parked right next to the Trumpjet and I snapped a picture of The Former Guy, back when he was still The Future Guy and known primarily for real estate and reality tv.

Photo by David Thornton (all rights reserved)

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