Soon after the 2020 election, a senior vice president at the Fox Business Network sent a warning to the network’s president that neatly distilled the recent trajectory of host Maria Bartiromo’s career. Bartiromo, he said, has “GOP conspiracy theorists in her ear and they use her for their message sometimes.”
On Sunday, Bartiromo lived up to that reputation. To introduce her show on Fox News, she promised viewers that she would be covering “the most serious allegations ever leveled at a president” — claims made by House Republicans and, specifically, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) that members of President Biden’s family had taken millions of dollars from foreign nationals.
Not Biden himself, mind you, though Bartiromo and Comer like to identify the recipients of that money as “the Biden family” to imply that somehow it trickles back to Biden through an unidentified conduit. But, nonetheless: She asserted that this money, sent to people like Biden’s son Hunter mostly in the period when Joe Biden was out of government, marked more serious allegations than, say, Watergate or withholding aid to Ukraine to boost a presidential campaign or millions raised by a sitting president and his family.
Comer was Bartiromo’s first guest. He was arriving fresh off a midweek news conference that he’d pledged to Fox viewers beforehand would be “judgment day for the Biden administration” but that resulted mostly in non-Fox-News headlines about his failure to connect any of the wan allegations his committee presented back to Biden himself.
Bartiromo’s first question dealt not with the underwhelming news conference — one she instead pretended was subjected to a coverup by traditional media outlets — but by presenting a conspiracy theory for Comer to riff on.
“As soon as Joe Biden entered the White House, when he started his term as president,” she asked, “he canceled what was the China Initiative, an initiative that happened under [President Donald] Trump and Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo. Did he, did he get paid for canceling the China Initiative?”
Bear in mind that there’s no evidence Biden got paid for anything. But that’s not the actual problem with this question. The actual problem with the question is that this initiative was ended in February 2022, well over a year into Biden’s presidency. Despite Bartiromo’s — and, subsequently, Comer’s — effort to cast this as “one of the first things [Biden] did” (in the latter’s words), it very much wasn’t. But if you’re alleging a quid pro quo, you gotta have a quo. You should have a quid, too, really, but that ship was already well out of port.
Now we come to Bartiromo’s second question. It dealt with a subpoena issued by Comer and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
“You have spoken with whistleblowers. You have spoken — you also spoke with an informant who gave you all of this information,” Bartiromo said. “Where is that informant today?” she asked. “Where are these whistleblowers?”
This is an odd question! Why would a reporter care where an informant was instead of the status of the investigation into what they said? Well, what if someone was whispering in the reporter’s ear about a conspiracy theory?
“Unfortunately, we can’t track down the informant,” Comer replied. “We’re hopeful that the informant is still there. The whistleblower knows the informant. The whistleblower is very credible.”
Let’s interject here to explain the past two weeks of this reality show. Earlier this month, Comer and Grassley sent that subpoena to the FBI, seeking “[a]ll FD-1023 forms … created or modified in June 2020, containing the term ‘Biden.’ ” In an accompanying letter, they told the FBI (and those in the media for whom they knew the allegation would be catnip) that a whistleblower had informed them of “an alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions.” The FD-1023 they sought, the letter stated, “includes a precise description of how the alleged criminal scheme was employed as well as its purpose.”
The New York Post went wild, putting the allegation on its front page the following day with the wood “JOE BRIBIN’.” The story inside the paper focused not on what that alleged bribe constituted but, instead, on how lots of people were trying to figure out what it might be.
A few days later, the FBI responded.
“An FD-1023 form documents information as told to a line FBI agent,” it explained in a letter. “Recording the information does not validate the information, establish its credibility, or weigh it against other information known or developed by the FBI.”
In other words, the form Comer and Grassley sought was simply the documentation of the allegation of an informant in the first place. The FBI therefore declined to provide it.
It appears, based on what Comer told Bartiromo, that the claims made to the FBI come from the same informant that Comer can no longer find. He waved this away, saying that “these informants are kind of in the spy business so they don’t make a habit of being seen a lot or being high profile or anything like that.” But he also hinted that maybe something nefarious was afoot.
“Nine of the 10 people that we’ve identified that have very good knowledge with respect to the Bidens, they’re one of three things, Maria,” he said. “They’re either currently in court, they’re currently in jail, or they’re currently missing.”
This is very vague, certainly. To an objective observer, it also immediately introduces questions: How credible are a cadre of informants, at least one of whom is in jail, and another of whom has gone radio silent? The phrasing, of course, implies that maybe seven of them are facing lawsuits … or maybe seven of them were abducted by men in vans with blacked-out windows!
Comer knows what he’s doing here. It’s been a baseless trope since at least the Clinton administration that powerful Democrats disappear their enemies. His role here is providing grist. It’s up to others to operate the mill.
Bartiromo — who, remember, had asked that weird “where is the informant” question in the first place — summarized her conversation with Comer by calling it “a stunning breaking news story this morning that some of these people now may be missing.” Some of.
Again, all of this is apparently based on a now-vanished informant’s claims that may also have been made to the FBI. Bartiromo’s track record for evaluating similar claims is not strong; documents made public in March show her credulous acceptance of claims about election fraud from Trump’s attorney Sidney Powell.
In the abstract, it seems odd that Comer would push forward so eagerly with wispy or dubious assertions about Biden that almost necessarily erode the credibility of himself and his committee. Yes, it generates energy and enthusiasm on Fox News and in the New York Post, but it also raises the bar for objective media outlets to take his claims at face value. The boy who called bribe and all that.
It’s also useful to note Comer’s words during his news conference last week.
“We will report to you only facts when they are verified and indisputable,” he said. “This committee will not pursue witch hunts or bring the American people along for years with false promises of evidence that is beyond circumstantial evidence, as Rep. Adam Schiff and the Democrats did for years.”
Publicly alleging criminal bribery schemes from vanished informants would seem not to comport with that pledge. “Good enough for Maria Bartiromo” is somewhat less than an impressive standard.
Update: Comer’s office says the chairman “was NOT talking about the whistleblower related to the FBI 1023 form” but “someone who had provided information related to the Biden family finances,” as summarized by Fox News’s Chad Pergram. CNN’s Annie Grayer reports from a source that the “missing” informant is “an Israeli professor who is wanted by the US for arms dealing.”
Here is exactly what Comer said to Bartiromo, for context:
“Unfortunately, we can’t track down the informant. We’re hopeful that the informant is still there. The whistleblower knows the informant. The whistleblower is very credible. And all we’re asking the FBI with respect to the Form 1023 is what did you do to investigate this allegation?”
(It’s worth noting that’s not what the letter or subpoena issued in early May actually said.)
Comer later added:
“We’re hopeful that we can find the informant. Now remember these informants are kind of in the spy business so they don’t make a habit of being seen a lot or being high profile or anything like that. We have basic information with respect to what the informant has alleged, and it’s very serious. It alleges that Joe Biden, when he was vice president, was involved in a quid pro quo with a foreign country in exchange for foreign aid.”