February 16, 2024
The special counsel investigating Hunter Biden has charged a former F.B.I. informant with fabricating claims that President Joe Biden and his son each sought $5 million bribes from a Ukrainian company—a stinging setback for Republicans who cited the allegations in their push to impeach the president, reports The New York Times.
The longtime informant, Alexander Smirnov, 43, is accused of falsely telling the F.B.I. that Hunter Biden—then a paid board member of the energy giant Burisma—demanded the money to protect the company from an investigation by the country’s prosecutor general at the time.
The explosive story, which seemed to back up unsubstantiated Republican claims of a “Biden crime family,” turned out to be a brazen lie, according to a 37-page indictment unsealed late Thursday in a California federal court, brought by the special counsel, David C. Weiss.
Smirnov’s motivation for lying, prosecutors wrote, appears to have been political. During the 2020 campaign, he sent his F.B.I. handler “a series of messages expressing bias” against Joe Biden, including texts, replete with typos and misspellings, boasting that he had information that would put him in jail.
Republicans pressured the F.B.I. to release internal reports after they learned of Smirnov’s claims. In May last year, Representative James Comer of Kentucky, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, threatened to hold the bureau’s director, Christopher Wray, in contempt if he did not disclose some details.
In July, after Wray complied, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa released a copy of an F.B.I. record that included the false allegation without naming Smirnov, or questioning its veracity.
Comer, in a statement released after the charges against Smirnov became public, took no responsibility for spreading a claim that prosecutors suggested was a smear intended to hurt Biden politically.
Instead, he blamed bureau officials for privately telling the committee that their “source was credible and trusted, had worked with the F.B.I. for over a decade and had been paid six figures.”
But F.B.I. officials did not seem to think much of Smirnov’s allegations from the start, and requested he provide travel receipts to prove he attended meetings cited in his report. In 2020, they concluded that his claims did not merit continued investigation and told senior Trump administration officials in the Justice Department of that decision, prosecutors wrote.
Smirnov now faces two charges of making false statements and obstructing the government’s long-running investigation into the president’s troubled son. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison.
The indictment did not say if Smirnov was a U.S. citizen, or specify his country of origin—only that he is a globe-trotting businessman who speaks Russian and who became an F.B.I. informant in 2010.
He was arrested in Las Vegas on Wednesday after disembarking from an international flight and detained pending a hearing on Tuesday, February 20.
The president’s son still faces indictments on a gun charge in Delaware and tax charges in California. But his lawyers said Smirnov’s indictment was proof that he was the target of a mendacious and politically motivated smear campaign.
“For months, we have warned that Republicans have built their conspiracies about Hunter and his family on lies told by people with political agendas, not facts,” Abbe Lowell, Hunter Biden’s lawyer, said in a statement. “We were right, and the air is out of their balloon.”
Research contact: @nytimes