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Fact check: How House Republicans put now-debunked Biden bribery claim at the center of impeachment push

Now that a former FBI informant’s claim about President Joe Biden having supposedly received a bribe from a Ukrainian businessman has been debunked, with ex-informant Alexander Smirnov facing federal charges for lying to the FBI, House Republicans are playing down the importance of the bribery tale to their effort to impeach Biden.

But the record shows that they had repeatedly put Smirnov’s unverified bribery allegation front and center as they made their case against Biden. In 2023 and into 2024, members of the House leadership and rank-and-file House members depicted the bribery allegation as critical to the impeachment push – and sometimes as hard proof that the president is corrupt.

In May 2023, Rep. James Comer, a key impeachment figure as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said the FBI form that memorialized the informant’s uncorroborated and now-discredited allegation was both “very crucial” and “very credible.” Just last month, Rep. Jim Jordan, another key impeachment figure as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, described the FBI form as “the most corroborating evidence we have.”

Multiple rank-and-file members of the House Republican caucus, meanwhile, joined former President Donald Trump and other Republicans in explicitly asserting that Biden took a bribe – going much further than the FBI form, which merely noted what the informant claimed to have been told by the Ukrainian energy executive, Mykola Zlochevsky of Burisma Holdings.

Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado told CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins on Wednesday: “We were warned at the time that we received the document … we were warned that the credibility of this statement was not known. And yet people, my colleagues, went out and talked to the public about how this was credible and how it was damning and how it proved President Biden’s – at the time Vice President Biden’s – complicity in receiving bribes. It appears to absolutely be false and to really undercut the nature of the charges.”

Comer and other Republicans are correct to note that their impeachment probe has always involved various other claims about Biden and his family’s foreign business dealings, though they have not presented any proof of wrongdoing by the president. But there’s no doubt that Republicans made the bribery claim central to their rhetoric before it was shattered last week.

Here’s a partial list of how House Republicans depicted the phony allegation. Many of their comments have been previously discussed this month by CNN and by other media outlets, including The Washington Post and NBC News. (Fox News, which had relentlessly hyped the bribery allegation, has joined House Republicans in trying to shrug off Smirnov’s indictment.)

Then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy cited the bribery allegation when he launched the impeachment inquiry

In a September 2023 speech announcing the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden, McCarthy said, “Even a trusted FBI informant has alleged a bribe to the Biden family.”

House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry memo cited the bribery allegation as supporting evidence

In a memo later in September 2023 that outlined the scope of the impeachment inquiry, House committee leaders Comer, Jordan and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Smith claimed that other “evidence” that had been acquired by Comer’s committee “is bolstered” by an FBI form “that alleges the President directly participated in a bribery scheme.”

Jordan called the FBI form ‘the most corroborating evidence we have’

In a January 2024 appearance on Fox News, Jordan spoke about the FBI form and said: “That to me is really the heart of this matter. And then you have all this other evidence that Jamie (Comer) and Jason (Smith) have brought forward from their committees that support that. But the most corroborating evidence we have is that 1023 form from this highly credible confidential human source, according to US Attorney Scott Brady.”

Brady testified to Congress in 2023 that the FBI form had included enough “indicia of credibility” to merit more investigation, so his team had handed it over to the US attorney in Delaware, David Weiss, who was investigating Hunter Biden (and is now the special counsel who has brought charges against both Hunter Biden and Smirnov). But the FBI office in Brady’s jurisdiction later concluded that the matter should be closed, and FBI and Justice Department officials in Washington, DC, agreed.

Comer called the FBI form ‘very crucial’ to the probe and spoke of a ‘bribery scandal’

In a May 2023 appearance on Fox News, Comer criticized the FBI for not turning over the form and said “this is a very crucial piece of our investigation,” adding that “I think it’s very credible.” Then, in another Fox News appearance in July, after Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley obtained the form from “Justice Department whistleblowers” and released it, Comer said, “Every day this bribery scandal becomes more credible” – even though the witness whose testimony he was discussing had actually testified that he had no knowledge of the supposed bribe.

The oversight committee’s investigation page listed the informant’s claim as ‘key evidence’

The FBI form was listed as “key evidence” on Comer’s committee’s web page about its investigation into the Biden family. The web page said the FBI form alleged that Biden had “engaged in a bribery and extortion scheme” in which he received $5 million.

The item was removed from the web page’s “key evidence” list this month after Smirnov was indicted. House Republicans also removed a reference to Smirnov from a letter sent to an unrelated witness requesting an interview.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, cited the bribery allegation as ‘bombshell reporting’ and part of ‘the biggest political corruption scandal’ in a century

In a June 2023 appearance on Fox News, Stefanik said that Biden is involved in “the biggest political corruption scandal not only in my lifetime but I would say the past 100 years.” After making an unsubstantiated allegation about Biden family members engaging in illegality, she continued, “You also have the bombshell reporting, including potential tapes that exist, of, while Joe Biden was vice president, taking a bribe from Burisma,” the Ukrainian energy company run by Zlochevsky where Hunter Biden sat on the board of directors. “So this reeks of corruption, and we are going to make sure that we follow the facts.”

Stefanik didn’t explain what she meant by “potential tapes,” but the FBI form noted Smirnov’s claim that Zlochevsky had numerous audio recordings demonstrating that he was “coerced” by Joe Biden and Hunter Biden into paying them off. The indictment of Smirnov says those claims were false and that he knew they were false.

Later, in a September 2023 speech, Stefanik cited the bribery allegation, among other claims about Biden, in support of the opening of the impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Mike Johnson, now the House Speaker, invoked the bribery allegation to explain the impeachment inquiry

In September 2023, Johnson, now the House Speaker and then a member of the House Republican leadership as conference vice chairman, gave a speech claiming they had uncovered “so many scandals” and “so much corruption” that Americans are getting lost in the evidence and allegations, so he would offer some “highlights” to “help explain why we’re doing what we’re doing.” One of these supposed highlights was the allegation about the bribe, which Johnson said was from a source “known well to the FBI and relied upon often.”

As Speaker, Johnson cited the “alleged bribe,” among other allegations against Biden, in a December 2023 newspaper op-ed defending the House’s move to formalize the impeachment inquiry.

Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina depicted the uncorroborated allegation as already proven

At a September 2023 congressional hearing titled “The Basis for an Impeachment Inquiry of President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.,” Mace described the then-unverified and now-debunked bribery allegation as a confirmed fact. She said, “We already know the president took bribes from Burisma. I also want to add: betraying your country is treason.”

Rep. Pat Fallon of Texas described the bribery allegation as ‘gold’ and ‘direct evidence of naked corruption’

At the same hearing where Mace spoke, Fallon acknowledged that an FBI form like this could be either “garbage” or “gold” depending on the reliability of the source, but since this informant was a longtime FBI source who had been viewed as reliable, “This, ladies and gentlemen, is gold.” After recounting the bribery allegation included on the form, Fallon said, “This is direct evidence of naked corruption and bribery.”

Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee described the bribery allegation as ‘overwhelming’ evidence for impeachment and a ‘nail in the coffin’ for Biden

When Burchett was asked on Fox News in July 2023 whether he expected Biden to be impeached, he said yes – and immediately cited the bribery allegation: “The evidence is overwhelming … the nail is in the coffin. This coffin is just completely made of nails. We’re not talking about Republican partisan witnesses from some far-right wing conspiracy. We’re talking about FBI informants, trusted FBI informants, coming forth.”

Later in the interview, Burchett said, “How much more evidence can you have?” He continued, “They keep saying ‘show me the evidence,’ and we’ve shown them the evidence. I don’t know what else you need other than President Biden coming on the news saying, ‘Hey, I’m a crook. I took this money. I took these bribes.’ I mean, what else do they need? There’s just too much evidence in it. And it’s all documented.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia described the bribery allegation as proof of Biden criminality and linked it to impeachment

In July 2023, Greene posted on Twitter, now known as X, images of the FBI form and framed them as definitive proof of Biden corruption – claiming that “Joe Biden is a criminal and is compromised” and that the form “reveals” that Biden “took a $5 million dollar bribe.” She concluded her post by calling to impeach him.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna of Florida described the FBI form as ‘proof’ of Biden corruption and also linked it to impeachment

After viewing the FBI document, Luna said in a Fox News interview in June 2023 that while the oversight committee had been speculating on the bribery matter, now “we have proof.” Luna said she is certain Biden is “corrupt” and added, “Unless we run an impeachment, I don’t think that the FBI or the DOJ is going to do their job and hold him to the same standard of justice” that she or Mace would face under the same circumstances.

Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia cited the bribery allegation as proof of corruption and the need for an impeachment inquiry

When Clyde was asked on Fox News in August 2023 whether he would vote in favor of an impeachment inquiry, he responded, “Well, I’m certainly in favor of an impeachment inquiry. We have never seen corruption like this at the executive level in my lifetime. I mean, this is the most corrupt president. You just have to read the FBI’s FD-1023 form of the interview with the president of Burisma” – though the form actually recorded what Smirnov claimed to have been told by the head of Burisma – “to see that Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden were bribing or requiring from, really extorting, Burisma, to the tune of $10 million – $5 million for each one of them. I mean, come on. This is using taxpayer dollars to leverage money into his own pocket.”

Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida cited the bribery allegation to defend the impeachment inquiry

When CNN’s Collins pressed Waltz in September 2023 about the necessity of an impeachment inquiry, given that House Republicans already had the power to subpoena bank records and other documents, Waltz invoked the bribery allegation, saying, “We have a credible, longstanding FBI informant saying that a Ukrainian oligarch has given $5 million directly to the president.”

CNN’s Marshall Cohen and Annie Grayer contributed to this article.

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