One of House Republicans' most prominent investigators promised he wouldn't spend his time wading into the conspiracy theory fever swamps "unless we have proof."
But just a few days after taking a powerful new position and without any evidence to speak of, House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) is amplifying a wild conspiracy theory: that Joe Biden's former executive assistant, Kathy Chung, is actually a foreign agent working for the Chinese Communist Party.
The hand-in-glove effort from top House Republicans and right-wing media has steered a comparatively banal classified document scandal into baseless, xenophobic fantasies.
The allegations and innuendo stem from classified documents from Biden's vice presidency that the FBI and Biden lawyers recently recovered from his former D.C. office and his home in Delaware. Federal investigators are probing the situation now ― as they are classified documents recovered from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. (In the latter case, Trump spent months resisting authorities' efforts to recover the documents.)
NBC News reported earlier this month that federal investigators had interviewed Chung, who now works in the Pentagon as deputy director of protocol, as part of their review of the recovered classified documents. A few days later, The Washington Post reported that Chung had expressed concern that she may have unintentionally been involved with moving or storing classified documents, which were ultimately recovered from the University of Pennsylvania's Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, D.C. Both news organizations cited unnamed sources.
Chung's attorney, Bill Taylor, confirmed to HuffPost that she has spoken with federal investigators and that in January 2017, she was involved in packing up Biden's vice presidential office, boxes from which later arrived at the Biden Center. Chung didn't know there was any classified material in the boxes, Taylor said.
There's no public evidence at all that Chung - who was born in South Korea - has any relationship to China or its government. But that hasn't stopped Comer from playing along with conspiracy theorizing from right-wing media hosts.
On Newsmax Tuesday, host Jenn Pellegrino asked Comer, "Do you believe that Chung's connection to Hunter Biden, possibly the Chinese Communist Party, and her role in transferring these classified documents is something that the House Oversight Committee should investigate?"
"We are investigating that," Comer responded. "It's very troubling and very disturbing to see the numerous ties the Biden family has to the CCP."
Although he didn't name Chung specifically, Comer later referred to the process of moving the classified documents: "When you start tracing back, you see that there are people that had very suspicious ties to some of our adversaries that were involved in the moving process."
Comer didn't respond to HuffPost's questions about what evidence if any he has to support his cable news innuendo about Chung, nor did representatives of Fox News or Newsmax.
Chung's attorney blasted the line of attack. "It's uninformed and absurd," Taylor said. "It's particularly odious in a partisan atmosphere like this, where people feel no compunction about suggesting that someone is a traitor without any evidence, and frankly knowing that it's not true."
House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) has tied a multitude of issues back to Hunter Biden.
Comer repeated the talking points in an interview with Fox News' Maria Bartiromo Wednesday and attempted to link the story to the president's son Hunter Biden, saying "there most certainly is a connection" between the documents and the younger Biden's business dealings in China.
Bartiromo said Chung was "overseeing the packing of this," referring to the president's documents. "Do we know if she's reporting back to the CCP about any of this?" she asked.
"We're looking into that. We're looking into at least three different people that Hunter Biden was directly involved with that have very close ties to the Chinese Communist Party," Comer said.
The back-and-forth between Comer and Bartiromo has been going on for days. On Jan. 22, Bartiromo introduced an interview with Comer by saying "we do not know if [Chung] was ultimately reporting back to the Chinese Communist Party." Bartiromo asked Comer about "the links between Joe Biden and Communist China" and whether it had dictated the way Biden treats the country.
"Most Americans would be shocked if they saw how many connections the Biden family has to people directly affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party," Comer said.
Conspiracy theories about the former Biden aide have been brewing for months on the right-wing web, stemming from various email exchanges with Chung reportedly taken from Hunter Biden's laptop.
In one exchange, Chung emailed with Hunter Biden about taking a job in his father's vice presidential office. She'd previously worked for former Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), a longtime staffer and friend of Joe Biden who ultimately recommended her for the job, the Post first reported. Taylor confirmed these details to HuffPost, noting Chung and Biden's son met when they both worked at the Department of Commerce.
"Call if/ when you want me to tell Dad you are interested," Hunter Biden reportedly told Chung of the job in a 2012 email, asking in another, "Would you like me to see when you can meet with VP?"
In a 2015 email, Chung sent invitations to a State Department luncheon co-hosted by Biden and then-Secretary of State John Kerry honoring Chinese President Xi Jinping. In February 2017, a month after Joe Biden left the White House, Hunter Biden invited Chung to work with him; she reportedly responded that she was looking to "stay on" with Joe Biden. Chung never worked for Hunter Biden, Taylor said.
Referring to these emails, Newsmax's Pellegrino exclaimed in her interview with Comer, "Hunter's laptop just keeps on giving us a lot!"
None of the emails between Chung and Hunter Biden offer any sign that Chung is or was a secret Chinese agent rather than a regular mid-level political aide. And yet that's the narrative currently being blessed by the top Republican on the Oversight Committee. Comer is a noted master of tying everything back to Hunter Biden.
"Hunter Biden was in charge of picking the people out to pack the boxes and transport the boxes from point A to point B," he told Bartiromo on Wednesday. ("That's not true," Taylor told HuffPost.)
On Thursday, Comer recited the same line to Sean Hannity: "We're learning in our investigation that Hunter played a role in determining who actually would be in charge of taking the documents from the vice president's office to the first point of delivery for those documents."
Separately in that interview, Hannity referenced a reported 2015 email from Chung to Hunter Biden, sent the day after the funeral of Hunter's brother Beau. In it, Chung includes a list of phone numbers for high-profile people, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and several senators and members of Congress.
Conservatives have seized on an email from Kathy Chung to Hunter Biden after the funeral of his brother, Beau, that included contact info for prominent figures.
This email in particular has been chum for the right-wing web. Trump pardon recipient Michael Flynn gushed a few days before the 2020 presidential election, "Any foreign power would love to have this information!!!"
And G News, a China-focused, Steve Bannon-linked website, published an article the same day headlined, without evidence, "Hunter Biden Sold the Clintons' Phone Numbers to the CCP." The article references the Bannon-connected Chinese internet personality Lu De, whose real name is Wang Dinggang. The New York Times and NBC News have reported Wang is the origin of several Hunter Biden rumors.
The G News post claimed "the purpose of sending Hunter this email is so that he could forward the phone list to the CCP." ("Crazy and absurd," Taylor said.)
In his interview with Hannity, Comer dove down the rabbit hole.
Hunter Biden, he said, would "try to prove his worth to these people in these other countries that were paying these enormous sums of money to him," in part by "showing them he had cell numbers for powerful individuals."
As Fox News' exit music swelled, Comer rushed to finish his point: "Influence peddling! That's what we're investigating, and more and more evidence turns up every day to prove that this family has been involved in it, and that Joe Biden was an integral part of it."
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