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Senate Republicans to House GOP on Biden probes: Evidence matters

In a rational political system, facts would matter. In this one?

Then-Vice President Joe Biden speaks as his son, Hunter Biden, listens on April 12, 2016, in Washington.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden speaks as his son, Hunter Biden, listens on April 12, 2016, in Washington. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for World Food Program USA)

Senate Republicans have some sage advice for their House counterparts, warning them against becoming too consumed with taking down President Joe Biden and his family.

House Republicans, as expected, have come out firing at all things Biden. They contend that the first family is guilty of “influence peddling,” shady — even potentially criminal — business dealings and a “cover-up” regarding classified documents. They, led by House Oversight and Accountability Chairman James R. Comer of Kentucky, also are ramping up efforts to attempt linking the Bidens to the Chinese government.

But House Republicans have not offered a shred of evidence to back up the allegations.

“You know, I think that the process is important, whenever you try to expedite or take a shortcut, it’s going to probably make you susceptible to whatever you end up concluding,” said Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., on Wednesday. “I would hope that it’s all done in a way that has proper process to it, because whatever the result is, I think it’ll have more legitimacy to it.”

One former GOP standard bearer offered some advice to the new House GOP leadership team, saying “clearly, the Congress has a responsibility to evaluate what’s happening in the executive branch.”

“But you don’t reach conclusions before you’ve actually done the investigation, of course,” said Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. “I think the American people would like Congress, particularly, to focus on inflation, immigration, education — and to make our lives better. So, yeah, oversight is important. But it shouldn’t be the cornerstone of the new congressional leadership team.”

Republican and Democratic senators this week expressed concern that House Republicans already are presenting theories and allegations as definitive conclusions.

Comer was at it again on Wednesday. He used a tweet to raise concerns about artwork he claims — without evidence — the president’s son Hunter Biden sold at a markup to unnamed Chinese figures, presumably in return for access to his father.

“This has all the pattern of an influence-peddling scheme, and it also has the makings of a potential cover-up,” Comer told “Sunday Morning Futures” last weekend on Fox News, referring to the president’s mishandling of classified documents.

“Five different locations at least. Who knows what those personal attorneys have been doing?” the chairman said. “And when you look at all the things that our investigation is covering with respect to the influence peddling, there’s a lot of connections with the [Chinese Communist Party] directly to both Hunter Biden, Hunter Biden’s uncle Jim and Joe Biden.”

‘A lot more’

But if Comer and Oversight Republicans are in possession of evidence proving that claim, they have yet to make it public. That makes for an investigation, so far, based on theories-as-conclusions.

Jessica Collins, a House Oversight and Accountability Committee spokeswoman, referred this columnist to an online Education Department database that tracks foreign contributions to U.S. higher learning institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania. That site includes a link to a vast, searchable database.

Collins noted that the school had received $1.6 million in donations from China in 2017 before it announced that the Penn Biden Center would be established after the elder Biden left the vice presidency. The university’s total donations from China swelled to $4.8 million after the center was announced.

A review of the government data shows the University of Pennsylvania received a $536,340 donation originating in China on March 27, 2017, shortly after the center was announced in February of that year. It received 11 other donations originating in China that year, culminating in $1 million on Dec. 31, 2017. Of those payments, the largest was $1.8 million on Nov. 18, and the smallest was $324,800 on Sept. 17.

University spokesman Stephen MacCarthy said in an email “that the Penn Biden Center has never solicited or received any gifts from any Chinese or other foreign entity. In fact, the University has never solicited any gifts for the Center.”

“Since its inception in 2017 there have been three unsolicited gifts (from two donors) which combined total $1,100. Both donors are Americans. One hundred percent of the budget for the Penn Biden Center comes from university funds,” MacCarthy said. “Any foreign gifts received by the university are all properly reported to the U.S. Department of Education as required by Section 117 of the Higher Education Act. Penn is fully compliant with federal law.”

MacCarthy did not, however, respond to other emails seeking clarity on just where within the university those Chinese-originating funds landed. That could become information the public — read: voters — want as Republicans continue their probes.

What Comer and his committee have yet to do is clearly connect any potential dots that prove improper or illegal ties — which went to the main University of Pennsylvania fund — to the Penn Biden Center or Biden family members. The contribution data show that payments for contracts or gifts to American universities originate from hundreds of countries in addition to China, and typically it’s not the foreign government doing the giving.

Under questioning from Fox News commentator and host Maria Bartiromo, Comer also made allegations about a 2.8-carat diamond allegedly gifted to Hunter Biden by the head of a Chinese government-linked energy consortium.

“Look, we know a lot more about the diamond than I need to talk about right now,” Comer replied, saying the evidence lies on Hunter Biden’s infamous laptop.

At some point, House Republicans will need to explain what “a lot more” really means — and what they can prove, if anything, about it and any connection to the president.

“That diamond was given to Hunter at about the time these documents were being transported to different locations,” Comer said, referring to classified materials found at a Washington think tank used by Joe Biden and at his Wilmington, Del., area home. That’s a giant leap, and not one a serious investigator would typically make on TV.

“It’s very concerning,” Comer added before uttering another unsupported allegation: “Two ways the Chinese try to launder money into the United States are through the art world and through diamonds.”

‘Look foolish’

Such allegations made Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., grimace when he was asked about them on Wednesday. He contends that the investigations, as they are being carried out now, will backfire on the GOP.

“You know what? I think they’re going to make themselves look completely out of touch with what Americans want them to focus on,” Kaine said. “I really do. So, no, I’m not concerned about it. I wish they, you know, would focus on productive stuff — but I think they’re gonna make themselves look foolish.”

House Republicans could well be on their way to just that, and voters could punish them — and the party’s presidential nominee — in 2024. So far, all House Republicans have done is pepper the political air with intrigue. They say as much in interviews.

“Do you see a connection here, Maria? I mean, this is very concerning,” Comer told Bartiromo. “This has gone from just simply being irresponsible to downright scary.”

One House GOP source with knowledge of the Oversight investigation on Tuesday also failed to produce evidence that the Chinese contributions to the university’s general fund went to the Biden Center or one of the Bidens, saying only that “money is fungible.”

When pressed on whether the Oversight Committee has evidence to show the China-based donations were “funged,” to coin a term, to the Penn Biden Center or a specific Biden, the source said Comer is “seeking all documents, communications and information related to donations originating from China to UPenn from Jan. 20, 2017, to present.”

Fair enough. That is how a legitimate and serious investigation should be conducted.

But why are the Oversight chairman and other House Republicans on television daily connecting dots without first obtaining evidence that may — or may not — prove what are now just far-right conspiracy theories?

Republicans could start by clearly connecting those alleged China-UPenn dots — that is, if there is any evidence that connects the Chinese government to the Penn Biden Center or any family member for which it was named.

In a rational political system, Comer and his GOP mates would have to tell us. But in this one?

Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett writes a weekly column for Roll Call, parts of which first appeared in the subscription-based CQ Afternoon Briefing newsletter.

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