The Memo: GOP on defense over Biden probe after Russian revelations

Republicans are seeking to preserve the credibility of their inquiries into the Biden family after a huge setback.

On Tuesday, a court filing revealed that a former FBI informant behind a discredited claim that President Biden and his son Hunter Biden received bribes is allegedly linked to Russian intelligence.

Democrats, including House Oversight and Accountability Committee ranking member Jamie Raskin (Md.) say the revelation should be the beginning of the end of the impeachment inquiry into the president.

The former informant, Alexander Smirnov, was arrested last week and charged with making false statements to his FBI handler. It was only Tuesday that the allegation of Russian links emerged.

Raskin told reporters Wednesday, “The impeachment investigation essentially ended yesterday, in substance if not in form, with the explosive revelation that Mr. Smirnov’s allegations about Ukrainian Burisma payments to Joe Biden were concocted along with Russian intelligence agents.”

A legal filing from prosecutors Tuesday included the details of alleged Russian links as part of a broader argument that Smirnov, a citizen of Israel, should not be allowed out of detention pending his trial because the government considers him a flight risk.

The filing asserted Smirnov could be resettled outside the United States by foreign intelligence services and also alleged he has access to more than $6 million “in liquid funds” that he had previously concealed.

Smirnov became a central figure in the Biden investigations primarily because of one explosive allegation.

He said he had been told by an executive of Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden served on the board, that the executive had felt obligated to pay the Bidens massive bribes, amounting to $5 million each to the president and his son.

The new legal filing starkly notes that these events “were fabrications.” Smirnov was not even in contact with the Burisma executives until much later than he claimed.

Separate from the bribe allegation, the legal filing notes that one obvious flaw in Smirnov’s story was an account of a supposed Hunter Biden trip to Kyiv and a stay in a particular hotel — none of which actually happened. The president’s son has, in fact, never been to Ukraine.

Even more explosively, the document outlines extensive meetings between Smirnov and figures from the Russian intelligence world. Prosecutors say that during an interview after he had been taken into custody last week, Smirnov “admitted that officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved” in propagating some of his information

The whole farrago is, by any reasonable measure, a sizable black eye to GOP efforts to impeach the president.

At the time that Smirnov’s bribe claims first emerged last summer — albeit as an anonymous FBI informant — Republicans including former President Trump seized upon them.

“Look, the guy got bribed!” Trump wrote in a social media post last August, referring to the president.

Other Republicans joining the fray at that time included Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), who said President Biden and Hunter Biden had been “extorting Burisma to the tune of $10 million,” and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who alleged the president had been “caught on tape getting bribed.”

Now, those allegations have been shredded.

Republicans, however, are not giving up the fight. GOP members insisted Wednesday that their allegations of malfeasance were not “reliant” upon the claims made by Smirnov.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) argued the Smirnov revelations “doesn’t change the fundamental facts.”

He asserted that those facts included that Hunter Biden had been paid excessively by Burisma and that President Biden, during his time as vice president to President Obama, had helped get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired in order to aid the company.

In fact, the Obama administration, as well as other figures in the European Union and broader international community, had become disenchanted with the Ukrainian prosecutor in question — not because he was overzealous in taming corruption but because he was too lax about it.

To be sure, this point does not delegitimize real questions about why Hunter Biden was getting paid so lavishly by a Ukrainian energy company in the first place. It is widely accepted that this would not have happened were it not for his last name.

But that is a different issue to whether President Biden acted corruptly — an allegation for which Republicans have yet to find any persuasive evidence.

Law professor Jonathan Turley argued in a New York Post op-ed published Wednesday that the new revelations pertain only to the false allegations of bribery but do “not address hundreds of confirmed emails of Hunter Biden cashing in on an array of foreign contacts.”

That may be true — but it also does not prove anything about the president’s behavior.

At a minimum, the revelations about Smirnov also entirely overshadowed a closed-door deposition of the president’s brother, James Biden, on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

James Biden’s opening statement, however, asserted that “I never asked my brother to take any official action on behalf of me, my business associates or anyone else.”

The general shadiness of Hunter Biden’s business dealings has created some fertile political ground for the GOP.

An Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday found that a huge 67 percent of Americans believed the president’s son “has personally profited from his father Joe Biden’s positions in government.”

But Hunter Biden has never been the main target for Republicans.

Now, their efforts to make incriminating charges stick to the president have suffered a major blow.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

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