House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer has emerged as one of the most powerful Republicans in Kevin McCarthy’s House majority, and has played a leading role in marquee investigations into President Joe Biden and his family. But a big takeaway of the New York Times’ illuminating profile of the Kentucky congressman is how little he, personally, seems to actually believe in his act—and how open he is about the degree to which this performance is for the benefit of Donald Trump’s true believers. “You know,” Comer told the Times’ Jonathan Swan and Luke Broadwater of the anti-Biden conspiracy theories he has helped legitimize in recent months, “the customer’s always right.” 

Comer, to be clear, is as right-wing as they come. He’s anti-LGBTQ+anti-choice, and pro-border wall—a self-described “Trump man” who has been an unabashed apologist for the former president. In other words, he’s not some moderate who put his finger to the wind and shifted right; he’s an actual conservative. But, as Swan and Broadwater note, Comer still seems to inhabit the reality that Trump has long encouraged his supporters to abandon: he voted to certify Biden’s 2020 election win, and seems to have privately expressed misgivings about the personal fealty to Trump that the MAGA base expected of him. “He was mortified by Trump,” former Democratic Representative John Yarmuth, also of Kentucky, told the Times. “He used to say he was so frustrated because every weekend he would go home and there would be people who would beat up on him about not defending Trump enough.”

Nevertheless, Comer has embraced that role of Trump’s guardian from his perch on the Oversight Committee: While downplaying apparent misdeeds by the former president and suffocating investigations into him, the chairman has gone on the attack against Biden, probing the president’s handling of classified materials and poring over his finances and those of his son, Hunter Biden. Not only is he—like Jim Jordan, chair of the Judiciary Committee and a panel investigating the so-called “weaponization of the federal government”—essentially working to Benghazi Biden; he’s shown a proclivity for making unfounded suggestions about Biden and other Trump foes. Comer has repeatedly suggested Biden was “compromised by foreign dollars and influence,” and even implied that there was a connection between Biden’s mishandling of sensitive materials and a diamond Hunter Biden received from the CEO of a Chinese energy conglomerate. “Our national security could be at risk,” Comer told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo in January. “Well, is this treason?” the host asked him. 

“It’s very concerning,” he replied. “We’re not going to let up.”

And Comer hasn’t. On Monday, he and two other GOP committee leaders—Jordan and House Administration Chairman Bryan Steil—sent a letter to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, accusing him of engaging in an “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority” if he brings criminal charges against Trump, which the former president said he expects this week. “If these reports are accurate, your actions will erode confidence in the evenhanded application of justice and unalterably interfere in the course of the 2024 presidential election,” Comer, Jordan, and Steil wrote, demanding the DA appear before Congress. “In light of the serious consequences of your actions, we expect that you will testify about what plainly appears to be a politically motivated prosecutorial decision.”

It goes without saying that Congress should act as a check on the other branches of government; Biden, his administration, and prosecutors are not above oversight. But there is an obvious difference between oversight and categorically dismissing charges that haven’t even been filed yet as being “motivated by political calculations.” Oversight deals in facts and evidence. Comer, on the other hand, specializes in innuendo and intimation. 

That might keep him in the good graces of the hardliners on his committee, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who commands more influence than he does. “It’s hard for a coach to tell LeBron James what he’s doing wrong,” as Comer put it to Swan and Broadwater. It could also potentially help him realize his broader political ambitions, which may include the Kentucky governorship he missed out in 2015 on following allegations that he abused his college girlfriend and took her to receive an abortion, despite his public anti-choice stance. (Comer has denied the accusation, but seemingly acknowledged to the Times’ that he was behind a leak aimed at discrediting the story.)

But there is also obvious danger in cosigning Trumpian conspiracy theories; wielding his committee as a political weapon against the former president’s opponents; and feeding his base with what he himself described as “QAnon stuff” Some of it may be performance, but it fosters the kind of climate in which the Capitol can be overrun by insurrectionists—and much of the GOP, as Comer put it to the Times, is “rooting for the rioters.” 

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