Here’s a hot tip for anyone trying to peddle a lie: Add a number. Don’t make it too big, or too vague, like “millions.” If you’re talking about stealing an election, 450,000 might work. Or 33,000. Or maybe 5,000. But really, all those numbers are a little suspiciously neat. To really make this thing work, the number has to be something solid. Something specific.
Like 17. Now there’s a number.
If you’ve seen that number in the news this week, it’s probably been as part of the latest “scandal” that Republicans have whipped up about President Joe Biden. If you haven’t seen it, count yourself lucky, but don’t think it’s going to last. Because Republicans, led by pidgin expert Sen. Chuck Grassley and whistleblower-hating Rep. James Comer, are claiming that there are “17 tapes” that document their claims of a bribery scandal connected to Biden and his son Hunter.
Have they heard these 17 tapes? No. Have they heard maybe 10 of the tapes? No. How many tapes have they heard? Zero. They’ve heard zero tapes. Because the whole thing is just another part of the extended fantasy tale that Rudy Giuliani brought to them years ago. Like the missing whistleblower and the fake “FBI document,” Republicans know this is all a lie. They just don’t care.
The make-believe scandal that Republicans are now pretending to investigate goes back to May 1, 2019. That’s when Rudy Giulani brought a tale of intrigue, bribery, and blackmail to The New York Times, without any evidence, and the Times did what it does when Guilani brings them anything: They ran it without question.
The claim from the start was based around the fact that while Joe Biden had been vice president, his son Hunter had been on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm called Burisma. In March 2016, Biden pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor named Viktor Shokin, heavily hinting that U.S. aid might be withheld if Shokin wasn’t dropped. From this, Giuliani spun a story that Shokin had been investigating Burisma and Biden had him fired to protect his son’s paycheck.
It took less than a week for Bloomberg News to do what The New York Times had skipped over in their efforts to act as a Giuliani transcription service. Bloomberg sent reporters to Ukraine, interviewed officials, checked with Giuliani’s supposed sources, and looked back at the very well documented, very public events. They immediately showed that everything Giuliani was claiming was nonsense.
The reason that Biden put pressure on Ukraine over Shokin was because he was refusing to investigate Burisma. And not just Burisma. Shokin was such a corrupt prosecutor that he was allowing oligarchs to do as they pleased, so long as they shared a little of their profits. It was actually a probe by the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office that opened the door on how corrupt Shokin was, and how his failure to investigate was turning Ukraine into a hotspot for international criminals. Getting rid of Shokin was a critical step in the fight against corruption in Ukraine.
Shokin himself has even confirmed that he was never investigating Burisma, which is all the testimony that’s needed to show that the whole thing is a farce. The truth is that Biden completely ignored how his actions might damage his son’s income in order to do the right thing in stopping corruption. And, no matter what Giuliani, Trump, or innumerable Republicans have said since then, there is not, was not, has not been, any evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe Biden or Hunter Biden in Ukraine.
But just because a crime doesn’t exist has never stopped Republicans from continuing to “investigate.” Since Republicans gained control of the House, that has meant Rep. James Comer cornponing his way across right-wing media repeating claims he knows are not true. Because truth has f*** all to do with it.
Highlights of this not-an-investigation include the Mysterious Case of the Missing Whistleblower.
To be clear, that informant “in the spy business” is not the whistleblower. The whistleblower only told Republicans about the informant. But they have never talked to the informant. No one has talked to the informant.
Who was the whistleblower? Someone that Comer and Grassley say they trust completely, but who neither will name (Yeah, it’s almost certainly Giuliani). Anyway, the whistleblower says the informant is legit, Comer and Grassley say the whistleblower is legit, and why can’t everyone just be happy?
Then there is the Flap over the False Report. That’s the one in which Republicans insist that the FBI release an FD-1023 form containing a claim that strangely mirrors Giuliani’s original, instantly debunked story from 2019. The FBI doesn’t want to release this report to the public, because they don’t release unsubstantiated claims about anyone (well, anyone but Hillary Clinton. James Comey made an exception in her case). Since anyone can file a form FD-1023, and they can make any kind of claim they want, the FBI doesn’t show them unless they are able to investigate and substantiate the claims. That’s because they don’t want unsubstantiated claims referred to as an “FBI document”—the way dozens of Republicans and right-wing media sources have already done in this case.
Republicans have seen the document. They know everything it says. If Comer and Grassley were serious, their next step would be investigating those allegations. They’re not serious. That’s why they’re busy leaking uninvestigated claims to right-wing media and pounding the table about the FBI.
Conveniently left out of Comer’s Fox News appearances is that the document was actually filed well before the election. Both the FBI and DOJ had plenty of time to look at it while Trump was still parked in the White House, Bill Barr was attorney general, and John Durham was already on his round the world quest for anything anti-Biden. Only none of them found the document credible. The FBI actually did follow up, speaking to informants in Ukraine (it’s the names of FBI sources on the ground that are the redactions Republicans are complaining about when they say the FBI won’t give them a “clean” version). The whole thing was quickly and easily dismissed.
Now there’s a new claim from Grassley and Comer: The Case of the 17-Tape Oligarch. According to Comer, an oligarch, nationality unknown, was one of the big owners of Burisma when all the bribery was going down. Somehow sensing that he might need it to protect himself one day, this oligarch made 17 audio recordings of his meetings and phone calls with Joe and Hunter Biden, capturing all the details of what Comer calls “shenanigans.”
However, to absolutely no one’s surprise, Republicans can’t produce the tapes. Or the oligarch.
But again, just because the tapes don't exist, and no one can find the informant, and no one has talked to the unknown oligarch, doesn’t mean that Republicans can’t repeat this in a thousand variations.
That right there? That’s what’s known as bullshit. Blackburn is now claiming that a “top FBI official” told her that they were covering up the tapes. Those tapes that were supposedly in the possession of the oligarch no one has seen in three years. Because when the lies get heaped up this deep, don’t expect Republicans to keep track.
And who was that top FBI official? He’s probably missing. So many people are missing.
While the FBI is out there looking for these missing folks, they might want to check out the guy with a record of threatening whistleblowers.