GOP House Oversight Chairman James Comer opens with hypocrisy
Yesterday, House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) raised the curtain on his committee’s first act — purporting to probe fraud in the government’s Covid Paycheck Protection Program but aiming partisan arrows at Democrats.
Citizens know when a committee chair is all about politics rather than genuine oversight. The telltale sign is when he ignores facts unfavorable to his own party and exclusively targets political rivals.
It doesn’t help when the chair has an apparent conflict of interest investigating a program that appears to have benefited him. As the Daily Beast suggested on Monday, maybe Comer’s new investigation “should start at home.” More on that in a moment.
PPP began in Spring of 2020 under then-President Donald Trump. It was designed to help small businesses pay their employees and stay afloat when the pandemic hit.
Comer launched his 2023 hearings with a press release: “In the past two years, the Biden administration has allowed fraud to run rampant in federal assistance programs and Democrats in Congress conducted little oversight.”
Comer never mentioned four sets of facts that undermine his partisan aims.
First, he failed to note that PPP’s first 10 months were under the Trump administration. Perhaps the GOP committee chair believes that “fraud and mismanagement” wait to strike until his opponents come to power.
There’s a fly in that ointment, however. Congress had already identified $4 billion in potentially fraudulent PPP loans, and the Small Business Administration’s independent auditor — while Trump was still president — pinpointed the cause: The Trump administration “did not adequately design and implement controls to ensure PPP loan guarantees were accurate.”
Second, Comer showed no interest in investigating how PPP may have benefited Trump and his family while he was president.
According to NBC news in December 2020, a $2.1 million loan went to a Trump International Hotel & Tower tenant in New York. The loan reportedly saved no jobs. Some of the money presumably found its way to Trump Organization coffers; it managed the building and owned portions of it.
In July 2020, Time Magazine reported that Waikiki’s Trump International Hotel & Tower received a PPP loan of over $2 million. Again, the Trump Organization presumably benefited from hotel revenue as a hotel marketing partner that had licensed the Trump name.
Time also reported that a company owned by Jared Kushner’s family obtained a PPP loan of over $1 million while Kushner was a White House senior adviser.
Third, on Wednesday, Comer boasted about “bringing accountability to Washington for the first time in two years.” He ignored the extensive work of the previous Congress’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. As recently as December, it issued a report which found that financial technology companies received billions of dollars but failed to put effective PPP fraud controls in place. Days later, the SBA suspended two such companies.
Fourth, the Daily Beast reported Monday that Rep. Comer’s brother, Chad, “received about $12,000 in PPP loans at the address of a farm he appears to have co-owned with the congressman, listing one employee.” The Kentucky representative had previously co-sponsored legislation that effectively forgave COVID Paycheck Protection Program loans for under $150,000.
Here’s something else notable for an elected official high on his horse about government waste: Back in 2020, Comer proposed a pair of bills which, according to the Daily Beast, “had they passed may have weakened regulatory oversight of COVID programs.” In other words, he sought to dilute government controls designed to catch the alleged fraud that he now laments.
Let’s be clear: Congressional oversight is a central legislative function and investigating fraud in federal programs helps counter that fraud.
The problem is when a committee chair frames the issue as partisan. What Americans hear is “get even” politics designed solely to damage the rival party.
Authentic investigations require public trust. Hypocrisy kills it. A GOP leader who opposes regulatory controls and then complains when fraud occurs destroys his own credibility.
During yesterday’s hearing, moments of bipartisan dialogue broke out about measures to deter future fraud. That is what Americans deserve.
By contrast, Comer’s political posturing aimed at knee-capping political opponents is more than a waste of time; it drains public confidence in legislative efforts to provide real oversight, services, protection and good government that we elect our representatives to deliver.
Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor, currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.