Ex-F.B.I. Informant Is Charged With Lying Over Bidens’ Role in Ukraine Business

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The special counsel investigating Hunter Biden has charged a former F.B.I. informant with fabricating claims that President 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.

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.

Mr. 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 Joseph R. Biden Jr., 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 Mr. Smirnov’s claims. In May last year, Representative James R. Comer of Kentucky, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, threatened to hold the bureau’s director, Christopher A. Wray, in contempt if he did not disclose some details.

In July, after Mr. 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 Mr. Smirnov, or questioning its veracity.

He then described Mr. Smirnov’s claims as “very significant allegations from a trusted F.B.I. informant implicating then-Vice President Biden in a criminal bribery scheme.”

Mr. Comer, in a statement released after the charges against Mr. Smirnov became public, took no responsibility for spreading a claim that prosecutors suggested was a smear intended to hurt Mr. Biden politically.

Instead, he blamed bureau officials for privately telling the committee 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 Mr. 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.

Mr. 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 Mr. 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 was expected to appear before a federal judge later Thursday.

In 2015 or 2016, Hunter Biden promised to protect the company “through his dad, from all kinds of problems,” Mr. Smirnov falsely claimed to his bureau handler in 2020, according to Mr. Weiss, who has charged the president’s son twice over the past year on tax and gun charges.

This claim was easily disproved, prosecutors said: Mr. Smirnov was only in contact with Burisma executives in 2017, after Mr. Biden left office — when he “had no ability to influence U.S. policy.”

Mr. Smirnov told F.B.I. investigators that he had seen footage of Hunter Biden entering a hotel in Kyiv, Ukraine, that was “wired” by the Russians, suggesting that Russia may have recorded phone calls made by Mr. Biden from the hotel, according to the indictment.

But Mr. Biden had never been to Ukraine, let alone that hotel, prosecutors wrote.

Mr. Smirnov is accused of exaggerating his “routine and unextraordinary business contacts with Burisma” into “bribery allegations” against the president, who is identified in the filing as “Public Official 1.”

He repeated some of his fabricated claims when he was interviewed by F.B.I. agents in September 2023, “changed his story as to other of his claims and promoted a new false narrative after he said he met with Russian officials,” according to the indictment.

It was not clear who was representing Mr. Smirnov in the case.

The president’s son still faces indictments on a gun charge in Delaware and tax charges in California. But his lawyers said Mr. 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.”

Luke Broadwater and Kenneth P. Vogel contributed reporting.

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