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Republicans forge ahead with an impeachment inquiry against President Biden

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden's younger brother, James Biden, was on Capitol Hill yesterday for a deposition with House lawmakers.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

His appearance was part of the Republican-led impeachment inquiry against the president. This House GOP is forging ahead with that probe, even as new information is emerging about the former FBI informant, who's charged with lying about an alleged Biden bribery scheme.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is following all of this and is with us now. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: OK, so James Biden was questioned behind closed doors. First question I ask is, why him? Like, why was he called? And do we know anything about what he had to say?

LUCAS: House Republicans have been trying for a long time now to build an impeachment case against the president. This is largely focused on the theory that he played an active role or benefited somehow from the business dealings of members of the Biden family. Lawmakers haven't turned up concrete evidence of wrongdoing on the president's part, but this explains why House Republicans wanted to hear from the president's younger brother, James Biden, yesterday.

Now, as for what he told lawmakers, we know from a copy of his opening statement that he told them that his brother, the president, has never had any involvement or financial interest in James' business dealings. He also told them that he never asked his brother to take any official action on his behalf or on behalf of anyone else, for that matter. But again, that's just from his opening statement. He spent hours answering questions behind closed doors, so we don't know all of what was said or whether any new information was turned up.

MARTIN: Let's turn now to that former FBI informant. Prosecutors say he has extensive Russian intelligence contacts. What do we know about that?

LUCAS: Prosecutors said that this former informant, Alexander Smirnov, has contacts with several foreign intelligence services. But they really did hone in on his contacts with Russia's services. According to the court papers, Smirnov told his FBI handler that one of his contacts was a Russian who controls a group that conducts assassinations overseas. Another contact is described as the head of a unit of a Russian intelligence service. Prosecutors say Smirnov did disclose these contacts to his FBI handler, so this is not something that he was hiding from the FBI. And former FBI folks tell me that it's these sorts of contacts that would make Smirnov useful to the FBI.

MARTIN: OK, but if that's the case, then why are the prosecutors raising them?

LUCAS: Well, they brought all of this up in a detention memo arguing that Smirnov should be locked up pending trial. Ultimately, on that question, a magistrate judge ordered him released on bond. But prosecutors argued that Smirnov's ties to Russian intelligence are not, quote-unquote, "benign." They said that after he was arrested last week in Nevada, that he told authorities that individuals linked to Russian intelligence were involved in passing along a story about the president's son, Hunter Biden. Court papers don't specify what that story was, but this does raise questions of whether some of the information that Smirnov was providing the FBI might have been fed by Russian intelligence. Now, we do not have an answer to that question right now.

MARTIN: So Republicans did give a lot of credence to Smirnov's claims against Biden. They are on the record about that. We've seen many interviews where they did that. So now prosecutors say all that was a lie. So how has this affected this whole impeachment effort?

LUCAS: Well, in the eyes of Democrats, they say that it's a death blow or should be a death blow for impeachment. But House Republicans have just kind of shrugged it off. The Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee, James Comer, has instead criticized the FBI for its handling of the investigation. Comer and other Republicans have also said that their impeachment inquiry isn't based solely on the bribery allegation. And so what they've done is just kind of forged right ahead. Talking to James Biden yesterday is very much a part of that. They're expected to talk to Hunter Biden next week, also behind closed doors. And Hunter and his business dealings have really been a key focus for Republicans in their impeachment inquiry.

MARTIN: That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.