WASHINGTON — Several Republicans said this week that they don’t know if there really are tapes of Joe Biden talking about taking a bribe.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) revealed Monday that a tip the FBI received in 2020 said a foreign national who allegedly paid Biden $5 million has recordings of himself talking to Biden when he was vice president.
The audio purported to be a compelling new detail about the FBI tip, which Republicans have demanded be made public since learning of it last month.
At the same time, the uncertainty over whether the recordings actually exist is a reminder that while the tip came from a credible career informant, the informant’s source is someone else, and the underlying information, audio and all, remains unverified hearsay.
Speaking about the recordings on Newsmax Tuesday, House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) said lawmakers “don’t know if they’re legit or not, but we know that the foreign national claims he has them.”
Comer pressured the FBI into showing his committee a redacted copy of the form during a private briefing last week. He said the June 2020 document, an FBI worksheet for recording tips from confidential human sources, indicates someone claimed to have paid Biden and his son Hunter $5 million in bribes several years prior.
The FBI has resisted handing over a copy of the form for public consumption, maintaining that such documents contain uncorroborated information and that releasing them can endanger sources.
The allegation that Biden was caught on tape has seemingly forced Republicans to remind an eager conservative media that the allegations might be untrue.
“We don’t know for sure if these tapes exist,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said on “The Chris Salcedo Show” Wednesday when asked if Republicans would consider impeaching the president.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) suggested on a program called “The Conservative Circus” that not only might the tapes not exist, but also that the foreign national who spoke to the FBI informant might lack credibility. (Some Republicans on the Oversight Committee have said the source is former Burisma executive Mykola Zlochevksy, a fugitive Ukrainian oligarch.)
“We don’t know really if the tapes exist, we just don’t know that, whether this was just a bluff on the part of, whoever the executive was, I think it was Mykola Zlochevsky, the CEO of the… the corrupt oligarch,” Johnson said.
Burisma has been at the center of Republican attacks on Biden since 2019, when former President Donald Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyrr Zelenskyy to announce a sham investigation into the Bidens. Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on Burisma’s board when Biden was vice president and advocated for the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor, a dynamic that Republicans described as a conflict of interest. The reality is that the prosecutor hadn’t been investigating Burisma and that his ouster had been a priority of both the U.S. and other Western countries.
During an Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) noted that Zlochevsky reportedly said in 2019 that he had had no contact with Joe Biden.
“The issue here is, is there any connection to President Biden? They have provided zero actual evidence to that effect,” Goldman told HuffPost after the hearing. “And yet they are smearing him with innuendo and debunked allegations to try to create the impression that then-Vice President Biden did anything wrong.”
Still, some lawmakers and right-wing media outlets are taking for granted that Biden took a bribe — especially as a diversion from the recent indictment against Trump for illegally retaining sensitive documents and obstructing an FBI investigation.
“Joe Biden caught on tape getting bribed and the Left looks the other way,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said on Twitter. “Donald Trump slow walks documents and they want to give him a death sentence.”
Grassley was able to reveal the document mentioned audio recordings because he and Comer had previously seen a version of the form with fewer redactions than the one the FBI brought to Capitol Hill last week. He told HuffPost he didn’t possess the less-redacted version, but that he was still trying to get it, and he thought it was suspicious that the existence of recordings would be redacted.
Grassley and other Republicans have suggested that the most important question is not necessarily whether the bribe allegation is true, but whether the FBI did its due diligence investigating the derogatory material against Biden as the bureau allegedly persecutes Trump and his supporters.
“Does the FBI follow up on it or not? Because the FBI ought to be able to answer the question for you and me, and the reason they ought to be able to answer it [is] because it’s an unclassified document,” Grassley said. “And what I hope to do is make this document public.”