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Bill Straub: Comer is up to his neck in ‘brown gold,’ determined to get in deeper; but no civil rights

Interesting article in The Guardian recently (hat tip to my friend Art Jester for pointing it out) about what is euphemistically referred to as “brown gold” – the increasingly lucrative use of farm manure for energy generation purposes.

The revelation should very well interest our own Monroe County farm boy, Rep. Jamie Comer, R-Whereverhehangshishatishishome, the freshly-minted chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, who is slinging enough horse manure – though it is generally described in much cruder and profane terms – to make him far richer than Jeff Bezos.

Before progressing further, let’s note for the record that Comer should be credited for two accomplishments this week. He had kind and sincere words of support for Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-MD, the ranking member on the Oversight Committee, who is battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy.

Comer also presided over a worthwhile opening hearing for the 118th Congress – potential widespread fraud in financial assistance programs created to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress in total approved six virus relief measures amounting to about $4.6 trillion under former President Donald J. Trump and President Biden. It was revealed that more than 1,000 individuals have pleaded guilty or been convicted on fraud charges related to the programs and more than 600 others face charges.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

That issue, obviously, is worthy of congressional review. Comer, who has displayed a propensity for overreach, called it “the greatest theft of American taxpayer dollars in history,’’ a claim that might prove true but has yet to be established. Regardless, Michael Horowitz, who chairs the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, told Comer’s committee that losses from fraud and misspent funds is “clearly in the tens of billions of dollars.”

So far so good, Jamie. Bravo.

But, as the saying goes, the good lord giveth and the good lord taketh away.

Comer has already announced that the committee’s next meeting will center on – get ready for it – Hunter Biden’s laptop, which Jamie is convinced is the holy grail that will ultimately nail the “Biden crime family.”

It’s an old tale, so we’ll give it the Clift Notes treatment. Hunter Biden, the president’s wayward son, has spanned the globe dialing for dollars with questionable business interests connected to some of the most notorious governments in the world. Comer has concluded that Biden, as president and even vice president, has gone easy on these outlaw states so his son can fill his pockets with rubles and yuan. What’s more, the president himself may have had more than a passing interest in these shenanigans.

Comer is basing much of this on specious information, including records contained on a laptop that Hunter Biden once owned. Comer on Fox News said the Bidens are selling “access for profit around the world to the detriment of American interests.”
This initial hearing, and there will be untold numbers to follow, involve the Bidens pressuring Twitter to ignore reports, originally published in The New York Post, regarding the laptop. At least some of those efforts to convince Twitter to leave well enough alone concerns photographs on the personal computer displaying Hunter Biden in what can be termed indelicate poses.

Biden has denied having any knowledge of his son’s business dealings.

Government officials or politicians pressuring someone or something to refrain from publishing something damaging or embarrassing, whether it involve a newspaper or a social media site like Twitter, is about as old as Gutenberg’s printing press.

Years ago, The Kentucky Post during the editorship of Vance Trimble, the meanest man in history of creation, even played on this subject with a house ad, with art by Jack Gold depicting a public official hovering over some news guy sitting at his desk, warning, “Kill this story, Mr. Editor, or else!”

The idea was intended to show that The Post told the truth despite threats – and it did. The point here is it happens all the time, yet it’s a great scandal if it somehow involves the president’s son? Twitter is privately held. Try making a case out of that.

Comer is moving ahead on the Biden probe even though there’s no law prohibiting an American from doing business with Russia or China and that almost all of the activity took place when the now president was not in high office – making it hard to establish any influence peddling.

What’s more, Comer is ignoring the shadier practices undertaken by the family members of his pal, former president Trump, during the four years he was in office, even though that info has been firmly vetted.

Robert Maguire, research director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said ignoring the sins of the Trump administration demonstrates “just a stunning dereliction of duty.”

“Trump brought in tens of millions of dollars as president from businesses he refused to divest, which were used by special interests and foreign governments to enrich him while currying favor with him and his administration,” Maguire said.

Raskin, the committee’s ranking member, said any failure to probe Trump’s activities with the urgency being accorded Biden would leave the impression that the whole routine is a “hatchet job.”

Jamie doesn’t care. He just wants his political pound of flesh.

The path Comer appears to be traveling isn’t very popular. A recent CBS News poll found that only 31 percent of the registered voters questioned say that investigating Joe Biden should be a high congressional priority. And a CNN poll determined that 73 percent of those questioned says congressional Republicans aren’t paying sufficient heed to the nation’s legitimate issues.

And there is a real question about priorities.

Comer announced this week, without explanation, that he is killing the Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which was responsible for managing issues related to equal protection under the law, including voting rights, freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, equal employment opportunities, nondisclosure agreements, criminal justice reform and more.

Comer’s decision comes at a time when the nation is aghast over the death of Tyre Nichols, who died at the hands of five Memphis, TN, police officers, who have since been charged with murder. Nichols is only the latest African-American to be seriously abused or killed at the hands of law enforcement, leading to calls for investigation and reform.

You’ll notice that criminal justice reform was one of the responsibilities of the subcommittee. If the panel had survived it could be looking into the vital issue of African-Americans dying in police custody. But Comer, by his actions, has established that goofing around with Hunter Biden’s laptop should be taken more seriously than the lives of Black folks.

“Let me be very clear,” Comer said. “Any topic that’s not mentioned in the subcommittee jurisdiction is reserved for the full committee. We can have a committee hearing in this committee on basically anything we want.”

But Comer already is on record announcing that his full committee is in line to investigate “40 or 50 different things” during the 118th Congress, meaning the lives of Black folks will just have to squeeze through the cracks, if at all.

Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-TX, a civil rights attorney, sought to get the panel reinstated. Her pleas fell on deaf Republican ears.

“In the midst of this tragedy and nationwide time of grief, the House Oversight Committee Chairman made a reckless and cruel decision to eliminate the vital Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee when we need this subcommittee’s leadership and insight the most,” Crockett said. “This is an abject failure by one of the most powerful committees in the House of Representatives. Systemic policing and extremist violence are killing people, devastating our communities, and breaking the hearts of families we took an oath to defend and protect at all costs.”

Perhaps Comer can use as an excuse he comes from a county that’s 95 percent white, so he doesn’t really care.

But that laptop…

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