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GOP House Oversight Committee backs off on contempt vote of FBI director

The committee accepted the FBI's offer to allow the committee access to a classified document.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday called off a vote on a contempt of Congress charge against FBI Director Christopher Wray, accepting a last-minute offer by the bureau to allow the full committee access to a confidential document of an unverified tip about President Joe Biden.

Rep. James Comer said in a statement that the committee is removing a contempt resolution against Wray from Thursday’s schedule after receiving an accommodation that would give the full committee access to the document.

“Allowing all Oversight Committee members to review this record is an important step toward conducting oversight of the FBI and holding it accountable to the American people,” the Kentucky Republican said.

The action that played out over the last month against Wray reflects a larger breakdown between Republicans and the FBI that has only intensified this year, with some conservatives talking openly about trying to defund the bureau.

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It’s a rift that first opened during the Russia investigation of then-President Donald Trump and has only widened amid the FBI’s wide-ranging criminal investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol, which some Republicans view as overly zealous and politicized.

The FBI made the last-ditch effort to ward off the contempt vote Wednesday, offering to give every lawmaker on the oversight committee access to a redacted version of a confidential document that alleges a bribery scheme involving then-Vice President Joe Biden and a foreign national. That’s according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

It was unclear until late Wednesday if Comer would accept the offer even as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said that would suffice.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on oversight committee, said in a statement Wednesday that he’s happy Comer accepted the “good faith” offer from the FBI but warned his colleague across the aisle of the precedent his actions leading up to this could set.

“Holding someone in contempt of Congress is among the most serious actions our Committee can take and it should not be weaponized to undermine the FBI,” Raskin said.

The FBI has called the contempt vote unwarranted considering the bureau had “continuously demonstrated its commitment to accommodate the committee’s request,” while protecting the safety of sources and the integrity of ongoing investigations.

But Comer had consistently said for the past month that the only way for the FBI to comply with the subpoena is to provide an unredacted copy of the document. It’s unclear what made him change course at the last minute.

FBI officials have already shown a redacted version of the several-page form to Comer and Raskin during a 90-minute briefing Monday. The bureau described that briefing as an “extraordinary accommodation” where both men were able to take notes on the document and ask questions.

The whole contempt fight over the document moved at an unusually rapid speed for the House. Committees often battle for months with an agency or a witness before resorting to contempt proceedings, often haggling over an “accommodation” that is considered compliance with a subpoena. Republicans moved far faster, arriving at contempt a little over a month after issuing the subpoena to Wray on May 3.

It would have been the first time Republicans had used the contempt power against a federal official since taking control of the House in January, but would be far from a rare occurrence in the House.

Democrats wielded the power of contempt memorably in the last Congress as part of the committee investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, was convicted by a jury on contempt charges last year after a referral from the House Jan. 6 committee. Another former Trump official, Peter Navarro, is awaiting trial on a contempt charge as well. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Biden document at the center of the new dispute was written up by a longtime FBI source whom both Republicans and Democrats have described as credible. In it, the source details an unverified tip received in 2020 about the business dealings of Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, in Ukraine. Hunter Biden worked on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company.

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