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Inside the GOP’s Latest Desperate Attempt to Smear Joe Biden

How low will Republicans go?

Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Trump arrives at a Waffle House with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene in Columbus, Georgia, on Saturday.

If you get your news on planet Earth, you agree with me that the biggest news story of last week was the federal indictment of Donald Trump.

If, however, you get your news on planet Wingnuttia, you have been led to believe that while the Trump matter was certainly news, the bigger deal by several orders of magnitude was the “proof” that emerged last week that Joe Biden took a $5 million bribe from Ukraine and that Representative Jamie Raskin lied about it. You’ve also been told that the timing of the Trump indictment was no mere coincidence—it was handed down precisely to distract America from the “fact” of Biden’s corruption.

If all this is unfamiliar to you, don’t worry. There is no such proof. Raskin, one of the most honorable public servants in America, who couldn’t lie if you tortured him, did not utter a falsehood.

It’s all right out of the playbook the right wing has been using for the last 30 years. They just make up stuff about Democratic presidents and presidential candidates. It has failed more often than it’s worked. But it’s worked often enough that we need to pay some attention to it and understand what’s going on here.

You probably caught wind of the fact that House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer subpoenaed FBI Director Christopher Wray back in May. He did this after Senator Charles Grassley received a whistleblower complaint charging that the bureau was in possession of a document that revealed an alleged criminal scheme involving the Biden family and a foreign country.

Comer wanted the document. The FBI refused, citing the need to protect source confidentiality. But under political pressure, the FBI agreed to brief Comer and Raskin, the committee’s ranking Democrat, and show them a partially redacted version of the memo. Then all members of the Oversight Committee were allowed to read it.

Here’s the long and short of it. It involves Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter Biden sat. The confidential source was told by the head of Burisma that he paid bribes of $5 million each to Joe and Hunter Biden. These were basically Rudy Giuliani’s old scotch-fueled rumors.

This all dates, by the way, to June 2020. This is a useful fact to keep in mind, for two reasons. One, it means that all of this is three years old; two, it means that Donald Trump was president and Bill Barr his still-loyal attorney general, when this document, an FD-1023 in FBI-speak, was logged.

Naturally, the Justice Department set out to look into it. Barr appointed Scott Brady, then the U.S. attorney for western Pennsylvania, to look into Giuliani’s claims.

As Raskin explained several times on cable news last week, the FBI has three levels or phases of investigation: assessment, preliminary investigation, and full investigation. Obviously, assessment means that the bureau looks at the charges and decides whether the evidence is sufficient to move forward to a preliminary investigation.

In this case, the charges didn’t even move beyond the assessment phase. Brady did little, at least that we know of. The only thing he ever did with respect to this matter that made the papers was that he held one four-hour meeting with Giuliani. But he brought no charges, and now he’s back in private life.

So, yes, as Raskin said last week, Barr’s Justice Department did drop the matter. However, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Delaware, David Weiss, was conducting a separate, parallel investigation of Hunter Biden, and the Justice Department sent the Giuliani allegations to Weiss. When Barr took issue with Raskin’s description of events last week, he was referring to that. So in theory, the “Justice Department” (which does include the U.S. attorney offices) is still looking into the allegations, but Weiss’s probe is known to be centered around possible tax evasion and gun charges against Hunter.

Raskin said in a statement: “If William Barr has a problem with [my] characterization, his problem is not with me but with the FBI, Mr. Brady, and other high-level officials reporting to him in his own Justice Department who signed off on closing down Mr. Brady’s probe.” His statement also included information about the meeting he and Comer had with the FBI last Monday. They were told, he said, that “in August 2020, [the] assessment was closed after a determination was made that there were no more investigative steps to be taken and the evidence collected did not meet FBI’s standard for opening a preliminary or full-scale investigation.”

So that’s where things stand. These are three-year-old allegations that have never been proven. Even Comer and Grassley admit that these are just allegations—although Comer (and this will give you a sense of his conception of justice) also said that the information in the document “has not been disproven.” Other Republican committee members—notably extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene and biography-enhancer Anna Paulina Luna—read the FD-1023 and pronounced Biden guilty on the spot.

Is it possible that Biden took a $5 million bribe? Sure, anything’s possible. But which is more likely: that Biden, who has been in the public eye for half a century without a single episode of financial scandal to his name, took a bribe (after, by the way, he was out of public life and finally making some serious jack on the lecture and book circuit, meaning that money was the last thing he needed); or that the right wing, which has peddled fiction after fiction about top-ranking Democrats, is lying?

This is what they do. They told 50 lies about Bill Clinton. None of them have been proven. He made no money from Whitewater. He did not protest the Vietnam War in front of the Kremlin. Yes, he had that affair, and he lied about that. But he did not obstruct justice. The zealous Mr. Starr would have found out if he had.

They lied about Al Gore, who never said he “invented” the internet. They lied about John Kerry’s military record—just ghastly, wholly fabricated assertions about a man who held a degree from Yale and could have found 500 ways to get out of military service but went to the Army recruiter’s office and demanded he be sent to the front lines in Vietnam. (By the way: Gore too graduated from Harvard and went immediately to a recruitment office in New Jersey to enlist to make absolutely sure that he would get no senator’s son breaks, while George W. Bush hid out in the Texas Air National Guard.)

They lied repeatedly about Barack Obama, who was not born in Kenya and did not smoke crack with his gay lover and was not a Communist Muslim terrorist sympathizer. They lied nonstop for 30 years about Hillary Clinton. Lying about her was an industry that at one time rivaled the gross domestic product of small nations. She sometimes didn’t help her own cause in the way she handled things, but remember this point, always: The number of “her emails” that were classified was … zero. Did you get that? Zero.

Don’t take this from Hillary. It was affirmed in 2019 by Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo’s State Department. (The probe did find that information that department officials considered to be classified wound up in many of her email exchanges, but the number of documents included in her emails that were marked classified was zero.)

Do Democrats lie about Republicans sometimes? I suppose so. But not like this; not this systematically. Lying is core to Republican presidential campaigns. Their positions—give more money to rich people, stop all abortions, take transgender children away from sympathetic parents, ban books, destroy the planet—aren’t popular, and they know this, so they have to make voters hate the Democrat. And corruption is all-purpose. Everyone can be troubled by it, whatever their ideology.

It’s especially useful to them now, with their party being led by the most corrupt person ever to occupy the White House by far. In a week when we learned that Trump admitted in 2021 that he could no longer declassify documents, blowing a huge hole in the case for his defense, Republicans were particularly desperate to dirty up Joe Biden. Comer and Jim Jordan will keep pushing not-yet-disproven narratives, repackaging old allegations as new. The mainstream media—and even, it must be admitted, this magazine, under conservative editors in the 1990s—has a pretty sorry record of falling for this stuff since Clinton’s time. Some Democrats, too, used to give these lies credence. I hope people have learned by now that there’s only one response to all this: Fight.