Justice Department Charges FBI Informant With Falsely Alleging Joe Biden Paid Bribes

Charges were announced against FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, accused of making false statements that were central to the Biden impeachment inquiry.

WASHINGTON ― A central piece of evidence in the impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden may have just evaporated.

The Justice Department on Thursday announced that an FBI informant was lying when he said a Ukrainian oligarch told him he’d bribed Biden.

Special counsel David Weiss, the U.S. attorney prosecuting the president’s son Hunter Biden on gun purchase and tax delinquency crimes, announced that FBI informant Alexander Smirnov has been charged with making a false statement and creating a false record related to the bribery allegation.

Republicans brought Smirnov’s claims to light last summer as part of their investigation into alleged corruption in the Biden family. House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-Ky.) threatened the FBI director with contempt of Congress if he refused to hand over a document recording Smirnov’s bribe claim.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wound up obtaining and publishing the file. In the document, an FBI agent said his confidential source had reported that in June 2020, Mykola Zlochevsky, owner of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, which previously employed the president’s son, had paid Hunter and Joe Biden $5 million in bribes.

The supposed bribe fit with allegations that then-President Donald Trump made in 2019 that, as vice president in the Obama administration, Joe Biden had pushed for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor in order to protect his son.

For months, Republicans have claimed the bribery allegation had come from a credible source. According to the Justice Department, the allegation had been made up.

“As alleged in the indictment, the events that Smirnov first reported to the FBI Agent in June 2020 were fabrications,” the Justice Department said in a press release announcing that Smirnov had been arrested in Las Vegas.

Smirnov had, in fact, been in contact with several Burisma executives, the indictment alleges, but “transformed his routine and unextraordinary business contacts” into bribery allegations against Biden, whose candidacy for president he opposed. Investigators cross-checked Smirnov’s story against travel records for two business associates he claimed had participated in meetings with the Burisma officials, including Zlochevsky. The indictment says one of the associates had never spoken with Zlochevsky, and travel records for the second associate were inconsistent with Smirnov’s account.

When FBI agents followed up with Smirnov last September, he allegedly “repeated some of his false claims, changed his story as to other of his claims, and promoted a new false narrative after he said he met with Russian officials.” He claimed Russians may have recordings of Hunter Biden, described as “Businessperson 1” in the indictment, at a hotel in Ukraine and that the audio could somehow be used as leverage for ending the war.

“Businessperson 1 has never traveled to Ukraine,” the indictment says. “The few Burisma Board meetings that Businessperson 1 did attend were all outside of Ukraine.”

Republicans have continuously cited the supposed bribe as they interview witnesses in their impeachment inquiry. On Monday, they spoke to an executive from a Democratic consulting firm that represented Burisma.

In response to the indictment on Thursday, Comer, one of the leaders of the impeachment effort, noted the FBI previously told lawmakers it trusted its informant and had paid him six figures over the years. He called the FBI’s conduct “very concerning” and said the impeachment inquiry would continue.

“To be clear, the impeachment inquiry is not reliant on the FBI’s FD-1023,” Comer said, referring to the FBI’s name for documents filed by handlers of confidential sources. “It is based on a large record of evidence, including bank records and witness testimony, revealing that Joe Biden knew of and participated in his family’s business dealings.”

Democrats, for their part, have been dubious about the bribe claim from the start. After a closed briefing last year, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said Justice Department officials told lawmakers they didn’t think the allegation merited a full investigation. Comer claimed at the time that officials indicated the bribe allegation had “not been disproven” and that the president himself was under investigation for bribery.

On Thursday, Raskin said Republicans should immediately drop the impeachment inquiry.

“Special counsel Weiss’s investigation is just the most recent to debunk the Ukraine-Burisma conspiracy theory at the heart of this fraudulent impeachment inquiry,” Raskin said.

The indictment says the Justice Department closed its assessment of Smirnov’s allegations in August 2020 but asked special counsel Weiss to help with a follow-up investigation of the FD-1023 form last July after Grassley made it public. Weiss had been tasked with investigating Hunter Biden and any related matters.

The impeachment inquiry has sprawled from Ukraine, to claims the Justice Department hasn’t prosecuted Hunter Biden aggressively enough to questions about the propriety of the president’s son’s career as an artist. But there’s no doubt the Ukraine corruption allegation has been the most serious piece of the effort.

As House Judiciary chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said on Fox News last month, “The most corroborating evidence we have is the 1023 form from this highly credible confidential human source.”

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