Ex-FBI Source Accused of Lying about Bidens and Having Russian Contacts Is Returned to US Custody

Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP
Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, center, leaves the courthouse on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former FBI informant who claims to have links to Russian intelligence and is charged with lying about a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden’s family was again taken into custody Thursday in Las Vegas, two days after a judge released him, his attorneys said.

Alexander Smirnov, 43, was arrested during a meeting Thursday morning at his lawyers’ law offices in downtown Las Vegas. The arrest came after prosecutors asked a judge in California, where the case originally was filed, to reconsider Smirnov’s custody status while he awaits trial. No hearing was held before he was arrested.

His attorneys, David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld, said in a statement they want an immediate hearing on his detention and will again push for his release. A copy of the arrest warrant that the lawyers included as an exhibit in their request for a new hearing shows Smirnov was arrested on the same charges — making a false statement and creating a false and fictitious record.

Several sealed entries were listed in the court docket, but additional details about his return to custody weren’t immediately available.

A spokesman for Justice Department special counsel David Weiss, who is prosecuting Smirnov, confirmed that Smirnov had been arrested again, but did not have additional comment. He is in the custody of U.S. Marshals in Nevada, said Gary Schofield, the chief marshal in Las Vegas.

Smirnov was first arrested last week in Las Vegas, where he now lives, while returning from overseas.

Prosecutors say Smirnov falsely told his FBI handler that executives from the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid President Biden and Hunter Biden $5 million each around 2015. The claim became central to the Republican impeachment inquiry of President Biden in Congress.

Smirnov has not entered a plea to the charges, but his lawyers have said their client is presumed innocent and they look forward to defending him at trial.

As part of their push to keep him in custody, prosecutors said Smirnov told investigators after his arrest last week that “officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story” about Hunter Biden. They said Smirnov’s self-reported contact with Russian officials was recent and extensive, and said he had planned to meet with foreign intelligence contacts during an upcoming trip abroad.

In his ruling Tuesday to release Smirnov on GPS monitoring, U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Albregts in Las Vegas said he was concerned about Smirnov’s access to money prosecutors estimated at $6 million but noted that federal guidelines required him to fashion “the least restrictive conditions” ahead of trial. Smirnov was also ordered to stay in the area and surrender his passports.

“Do not make a mockery out of me,” Albregts said to Smirnov, warning that he’d be placed back into the federal government’s custody if he violated any of his conditions. His lawyers say he had been “fully compliant” with his release conditions.

Prosecutors quickly appealed to U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright in Los Angeles.

“The circumstances of the offenses charged — that Smirnov lied to his FBI handler after a 10-year relationship where the two spoke nearly every day — means that Smirnov cannot be trusted to provide truthful information to pretrial services,” prosecutors wrote in court documents. “The effects of Smirnov’s false statements and fabricated information continue to be felt to this day. Now the personal stakes for Smirnov are even higher. His freedom is on the line.”

Smirnov had been an informant for more than a decade when he made the explosive allegations about the Bidens in June 2020, after “expressing bias” about Joe Biden as a presidential candidate, prosecutors said.

But Smirnov had only routine business dealings with Burisma starting in 2017, according to court documents. No evidence has emerged that Joe Biden acted corruptly or accepted bribes in his current role or previous office as vice president.

While his identity wasn’t publicly known before the indictment, Smirnov’s claims have played a major part in the Republican effort in Congress to investigate the president and his family, and helped spark what is now a House impeachment inquiry into Biden. Republicans pursuing investigations of the Bidens demanded the FBI release the unredacted form documenting the unverified allegations, though they acknowledged they couldn’t confirm if they were true.

Democrats called for an end to the probe after the Smirnov indictment came down last week, while Republicans distanced the inquiry from his claims and said they would continue to “follow the facts.”

Smirnov’s lawyers say he has been living in Las Vegas for two years with his longtime girlfriend and requires ongoing treatment and daily medications for “significant medical issues related to his eyes.” He lived in California for 16 years prior to moving to Nevada.