House Republicans seek to downplay FBI informant charges that undermine Biden impeachment inquiry

Reps. Jason Smith, James Comer and Jim Jordan speak to reporters after the House voted to formally authorize the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden on December 13, 2023.

Reps. Jason Smith, James Comer and Jim Jordan speak to reporters after the House voted to formally authorize the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden on December 13, 2023. Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesCNN — 

House Republicans leading the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden tried to downplay the importance of an FBI informant whose claims they once championed after he was charged with fabricating foreign bribery allegations involving the president and his son.

Special counsel David Weiss charged the FBI informant, Alexander Smirnov, with lying to the FBI and creating false records. According to the indictment, Smirnov “fabricated” a story about a Ukrainian oligarch paying millions of dollars in bribes to the Bidens – allegations that Republicans have made central to their impeachment inquiry into Biden.

The informant’s uncorroborated – and now fully discredited – claims were memorialized in an internal FBI memo that Republicans fought for months to obtain from the FBI and eventually made public in July over the bureau’s objections.

The downplaying of the bombshell charges undermine how Republicans have previously championed the discredited allegations as part of their investigation struggling to uncover wrongdoing by the president.

While a spokesman for House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan told CNN “nothing has changed” in the wake of the charges, Jordan said on Fox last month “the most corroborating evidence we have is that 1023 form from this highly credible confidential human source.”

House Oversight Chair James Comer said his work is “not reliant” on the now-debunked allegations and pointed to a “large record of evidence,” but when Republicans were fighting to publicize the document that memorialized these claims, Comer said on Fox in May 2023 “this is a very crucial piece of our investigation.”

And House Ways and Means Chair Jason Smith, who is leading the inquiry with Jordan and Comer, said the allegations were a “smoking gun.”

The “fabrications” and “false derogatory information” the informant is charged with further chip away at the broader Republican narrative that as vice president, Joe Biden corruptly abused his powers to pressure Ukraine to fire a top prosecutor who was investigating Ukrainian energy company Burisma as a way to protect his son Hunter, who served on the firm’s board at the time.

Even though those charges are largely based on already debunked claims about Biden’s dealings in Ukraine that emerged during Donald Trump’s first impeachment, Jordan has said this is “the key thing” to their impeachment inquiry.

The indictment is just the latest setback to House Republicans who are struggling to build momentum to impeach the president. A growing number of Republicans have said it is unlikely their monthslong investigation will ultimately lead to impeachment, given not enough are convinced there is sufficient evidence to do so.

In their razor-thin majority, Republicans narrowly squeaked by their effort to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas by one vote after failing to do so the first time, and sources say there are approximately 20 House Republicans who at this point would not vote to impeach the president.

In the wake of the charges, President Joe Biden called out the informant for lying and said Republicans should end their impeachment inquiry.

“He is lying, and it should be dropped. And it’s just been an outrageous effort from the beginning,” the president said.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said this in the wake of the charges: “I formally call on Speaker Johnson, Chairman Comer, and House Republicans to stop promoting this nonsense and end their doomed impeachment inquiry.”

Republicans leading the inquiry, however, say they have a mountain of evidence, including witness testimony and bank records, to withstand the recent indictment and criticisms about their investigation.

The House Judiciary Committee released the transcript of their interview with former US Attorney Scott Brady on Friday, which had occurred in October. CNN previously reported Brady vetted the unverified claims from Smirnov and testified that he found some of the material credible enough to pass the tip along to the prosecutor leading the Hunter Biden criminal probe.

“This was a CHS (confidential human source) that was known to the FBI, was credible, had been used – had provided information that was used in other investigations,” Brady said of Smirnov in the interview.

Comer’s committee separately released the transcript of the interview with Hunter Biden’s business associate Tony Bobulinski the day after the announcement of the charges against the FBI informant.

In the wake of the charges, Republicans have seized on the idea that Smirnov was initially presented as a credible witness.

“When asked by the committee about their confidence in the confidential human source, the FBI told the committee the confidential human source was credible and trusted, had worked with the FBI for over a decade, and had been paid six figures. The FBI’s actions in this matter are very concerning,” Comer said Thursday.

In the indictment, the FBI said they had used Smirnov “in various criminal investigations” dating back as early as 2010. When fighting to keep the FBI document memorializing Smirnov’s claims private last year, the FBI wrote to Congress that confidential human sources like Smirnov were “valuable.”

The FBI told lawmakers during closed-door briefings that Smirnov, then an anonymous confidential human source, was credible. Raskin said after a briefing with the FBI last year, “There is a confidential human source that the FBI works with who is proven to be very credible who reported a conversation with someone else.” 

And looking forward, top Republicans point to a pair of high-stakes depositions later this month with Hunter Biden and the president’s brother, James, as a key next step of their probe and say they are not expected to make an official decision on whether to pursue impeachment articles until those are complete.

But even before the charges were announced, lawmakers have been raising questions about the rest of the evidence produced by the investigation. 

In a recent meeting Republican committee staff leading the impeachment inquiry had with a group of GOP lawmakers, two GOP lawmakers told CNN they did not think investigators presented evidence that amounted to a smoking gun or a specific law that had been broken by the president. Instead, the lawmakers said, the investigators presented various scenarios they believed could lead to criminal wrongdoing.

An Oversight Committee spokesperson pushed back: “The purpose of these updates is not to advise members on criminal laws.”

And another GOP source countered the lawmakers’ characterization and said staff presented evidence of bribery, money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction.

The committee is expected to issue a final report that will address criminal violations at the end of their investigation, the Oversight Committee spokesperson added.

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