Former FBI Informant Charged with Lying about Biden Business

Tom Brenner for The Washington Post
From left: President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and Hunter Biden watch fireworks during an Independence Day event on the South Lawn at the White House in July.

Special counsel David Weiss – who has previously filed criminal charges against President Biden’s son Hunter – announced new charges Thursday against a former FBI informant who officials say lied about the Bidens’ business dealings.

The indictment returned by a grand jury in Los Angeles accuses Alexander Smirnov of making a false statement and creating a false and fictitious record. The charges amount to a stark rebuke of conservatives, particularly Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, who touted Smirnov’s claims as he and other Republican lawmakers tried to build a corruption case against the president and his family.

Smirnov, 43, is described in charging documents as a former confidential human source for the FBI who gave agents false information in 2020 about a prominent political figure and his son. The description of the two individuals matches that of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and a person familiar with the matter said those are the individuals about whom Smirnov lied. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

Smirnov allegedly reported to an FBI agent in 2017 that he had a phone call with the owner of the Ukrainian firm Burisma, in which it was discussed that “Public Official 1’s son, was a member of Burisma’s Board.” The fact that Hunter Biden served on the company’s board was publicly known at the time.

In 2020, the indictment alleges, Smirnov brought new claims to the bureau, including that he knew of conversations from 2015 or 2016 in which Burisma executives said they hired the son “to protect us, through his dad, from all kinds of problems.” Those claims by Smirnov were false, the indictment alleges.

Comer and other congressional Republicans spent months arguing that the FBI informant’s claims were evidence that Hunter Biden – and by extension his father – engaged in corrupt business deals, and that the FBI did not pursue those claims.

Thursday’s indictment implicitly argues that some of the most sensational charges Republicans have sought to level against the president and his son were based on lies.

Smirnov, according to the indictment, “transformed his routine and unextraordinary business contacts with Burisma in 2017 and later into bribery allegations against Public Official 1, the presumptive nominee of one of the two major political parties for President, after expressing bias against Public Official 1 and his candidacy.”

Authorities allege that Smirnov, in talking to his FBI handler, repeatedly expressed dislike for Joe Biden, and at one point texted the agent that Biden was “going to jail.”

In a written statement, Comer stood by his role in the Smirnov affair, saying “the FBI’s actions in this matter are very concerning.” Comer also criticized the FBI for not being more forthcoming in what it knew about Smirnov’s claims, though it is rare for agents engaged in sensitive criminal and national security investigations to share informant accounts with elected officials.

Hunter Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said the indictment shows that “Republicans have built their conspiracies about Hunter and his family on lies told by people with political agendas, not facts. We were right, and the air is out of their balloon.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said the charges against Smirnov show GOP efforts to impeach the president are “based on a lie” and called on House Republicans to drop the inquiry.

The Washington Post reported last spring that an FBI document containing the informant’s claims was previously reviewed by the FBI under then-Attorney General William P. Barr, found not to be supported by facts, and subsequently dropped. When Comer’s team demanded to see the document, FBI officials warned that wider disclosure of the information could jeopardize the safety of a confidential source.

For a number of reasons, it is rare for the FBI to charge one of its informants with lying. First, the bureau tries to encourage people with important information to come forward, sometimes at great risk to themselves, and arresting some of the people who do so might discourage others from becoming informants. Second, many agents tend to view informants as frequently wrong or dishonest and don’t think it is worth trying to build a criminal case out of those flaws.

But in Smirnov’s case, Republicans made his allegations a kind of cause célèbre, saying he had offered key information in their probe of Hunter Biden and the president. FBI officials were repeatedly forced to answer politicians’ questions about Smirnov’s claims and faced accusations from conservatives that the FBI itself may be corrupt.

U.S. authorities said that when agents questioned Smirnov again in 2023, he repeated some past false claims, changed other parts of his story and suggested new falsehoods after claiming to have met with Russian officials.

Smirnov was arrested at a Las Vegas airport on Wednesday, when he flew into the United States from overseas, the Justice Department said.

Weiss, who brought the indictment against Smirnov, is the U.S. attorney in Delaware and was appointed to that position during the Trump administration. His investigation of Hunter Biden began during the Trump administration as well.

Last year, Weiss asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint him as a special counsel, which formally gave him more independence in charging decisions. He subsequently charged Hunter Biden in Delaware with lying on gun purchase forms years ago. Weiss has also charged Hunter Biden in federal court in Los Angeles with multiple tax crimes.

The dual indictments of Hunter Biden, filed after a plea deal fell apart last year, mean that he could end up going on trial later this year – potentially twice – as his father runs for a second term as president.