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How the ex-FBI informant charged with lying is tied to the Biden impeachment inquiry

The U.S. Department of Justice is seen in June 2023. A former FBI informant has been indicted for allegedly lying to the FBI. His claims about President Biden were shared by Republicans pushing for an impeachment inquiry into the president.
Kevin Dietsch
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The U.S. Department of Justice is seen in June 2023. A former FBI informant has been indicted for allegedly lying to the FBI. His claims about President Biden were shared by Republicans pushing for an impeachment inquiry into the president.

A former FBI informant whom House Republicans pointed to for evidence in their impeachment inquiry against President Biden has been arrested and charged with making a false statement.

Biden said on Friday that the inquiry should be dropped.

"It's been an outrageous effort from the beginning," he said.

House Republicans have alleged that Biden's son Hunter engaged in "influence peddling" while Biden was vice president and they allege that Biden himself was involved. There has been no evidence that Biden has received direct financial benefit from his son's business deals with foreign companies.

Here's what you need to know about Thursday's indictment against Alexander Smirnov:

Who is Smirnov and what is he charged with?

Smirnov, 43, was a longtime FBI informant, according to court papers. He's facing two criminal charges in this indictment — one count of making false statements and one count of creating a false and fictitious record.

Prosecutors say Smirnov falsely told FBI agents in 2020 that executives associated with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid Hunter and Joe Biden $5 million each in bribes in 2015 or 2016 to protect the company from investigators.

The indictment also alleges that Smirnov repeated false claims when interviewed by the FBI last year and changed some of his story.

How does this tie to the House impeachment inquiry?

The development could further destabilize the impeachment probe into Biden led by Republicans in the House of Representatives, which has been moving forward in a so-far fruitless search for evidence of wrongdoing.

In appearances on conservative media over several months, investigators helming the inquiry disseminated the claims that Smirnov is charged with lying about, and ultimately released related materials over the FBI's objections.

The internal FBI document that Smirnov filled out with the original allegations had been privately available to members of the House Oversight Committee. But GOP Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and others pushed for the FBI to publicly release the document. Grassley eventually publicly released the document last year.

What could the consequences be?

Smirnov faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison if he's convicted, the Justice Department says.

As for the impeachment probe, it's unclear whether the indictment actually slows Republicans' efforts.

The top Democrat of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, called for an end to the inquiry, saying the indictment "has demonstrated how key evidence at the heart of House Republicans' impeachment inquiry is based on a lie."

The committee, led by Republican Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, tweeted in response that their efforts do not rely on the informant.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.
Eric McDaniel
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.