Politics / February 22, 2024

The GOP Witness Against Hunter Biden Is Full of Baloney

FBI informant Alexander Smirnov has been indicted for lying to federal agents—and may have ties to Russian intelligence.

Chris Lehmann
House Oversight Committee Considers Citing Hunter Biden For Contempt Of Congress

Hunter Biden departs a House Oversight Committee meeting at Capitol Hill on January 10, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

(Kent Nishimura / Getty Images)

One of the many recent setbacks to the House GOP investigation into Hunter Biden’s career in the private sector involved the feverishly touted testimony from the presidential failson’s former business partner Devon Archer. Republican members of the House Oversight Committee claimed that Archer would confirm that Biden’s son had flagrantly traded on the influence his dad wielded as vice president while Hunter sat on the board of the Ukrainian oil company Burisma. However, Archer only testified that his business partner was peddling the “illusion of access”—and that Joe Biden played no substantive or material role in his son’s business dealings, let alone the efforts of Burisma to game the Ukrainian legal system in its favor.

Now the entire Hunter Biden inquiry on Capitol Hill has been exposed as the illusion of an investigation. The most damning witness in the federal investigation of the alleged Biden-Burisma nexus of influence, Alexander Smirnov, has now himself been indicted for lying to federal agents, and prosecutors contend that he was coordinating his false claims with powerful Russian intelligence contacts.

There’s an elegant sort of karmic symmetry to Smirnov’s crash-and-burn trajectory as a government witness. His sensational claims—that Joe and Hunter Biden had each collected $5 million payoffs after the elder Biden, as sitting vice president, called for the cashiering of a Ukrainian special prosecutor investigating Burisma corruption charges, and that Hunter Biden’s Burisma appointment was engineered “to protect us, through his dad, from all kinds of problems”—were the central planks in the House’s case to impeach Biden. But his litany of bogus claims form a MAGA mirror image of the infamous “Steele Dossier,” the 2016 campaign intelligence report alleging (among other things) that candidate Donald Trump was a Russian intelligence asset, recruited via lurid kompromat collected during his visits to Moscow. Republicans have long derided the Steele Dossier as desperate wish-fulfilling fan fiction intended to stoke the forces of Trump derangement syndrome among Democrats (even though the original report was actually contracted by Republican sources). Now, a mid-level international business fixer has gone former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS one better, by placing a wholly fanciful account of machinations within “the Biden crime family”—evidently massaged by Russian intelligence handlers—at the center of a full-court press from GOP lawmakers to destroy Biden’s presidency.

Smirnov’s own motivations in springing this baroque fable of cronyist family networking on federal investigators remain murky, though it’s quite clear that he holds Joe Biden in low regard. Smirnov texted his FBI handler a series of messages in the spring of 2020 “expressing bias against” then-presumptive Democratic nominee Biden, as the federal indictment decorously puts it. Referencing an unconfirmed report from a Ukrainian lawmaker that Biden had been paid off to demand the firing of special prosecutor Viktor Shokin, Smirnov wrote, “Dems tried to impeach [Trump] for same. Even less. All these polititions [sic] same shit…Bribe of [Biden] should be soon in the news.” When the handler pressed him for details, Smirnov replied, “I’ll try to prove it for you bro.”

The “bro” is an especially nice touch there—it’s one of many elements in the whole wooly saga that calls to mind the Coen brothers’ underrated 2008 satire of D.C.-based power intrigues, Burn After Reading. There, a pair of hapless personal trainers in a D.C. metro gym stumble on a stray CD containing a series of financial documents downloaded in preparation for a divorce proceeding. But when they learn the documents refer to accounts held by a recently dismissed CIA analyst, they imagine themselves at the center of an international espionage ring. They try to sell the disc to Russian diplomats, who are completely baffled, but try to play along to see where the trail of spurious evidence might lead. One trainer, played by Brad Pitt, tries to blackmail the former analyst (John Malkovich) with this bro-like overture: “I thought you might be worried about the security…of your shit.”

That’s pretty much the level of sophistication that’s been propelling the Hunter Biden escapades in Congress for the past year and a half. In May 2023, after Smirnov—then still an unnamed informant—supplied an FBI statement alleging that Burisma had tendered the $5 million bribes to Biden father and son, the right-wing congressional-media complex lit up with breathless innuendos. Never mind that Trump’s own Department of Justice had investigated Smirnov’s allegations back in 2020—when Trump and his White house apparatchiks were desperate for any and all Burisma-branded mud to sling at the Bidens—and had come up empty. Never mind as well that the FBI didn’t release the contents of Smirnov’s statement—a 1023 FD in agency-ese—because agents couldn’t confirm the allegation, and Smirnov didn’t present as anything close to a reliable informant. House Oversight Chair James Comer of Kentucky, whose utter credulousness in that role gives scandalmongers a bad name, issued a joint statement with Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley demanding that federal investigators act with all deliberate speed to release “an unclassified record alleging a criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Joe Biden and a foreign national.” Over at Fox News, Sean Hannity alone featured 85 segments devoted to the bogus bribery claim in 2023, according to the liberal press watchdog group Media Matters.

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Grassley went on to release a copy of the report himself, with relevant names redacted, in July. “The Justice Department and FBI have failed to come clean, but Chairman Comer and I intend to find out,” the indefatigable Hawkeye sleuth declared. “The FBI’s Biden Bribery Record tracks closely with the evidence uncovered by the Oversight Committee’s Biden family influence-peddling investigation.”

In reality, as the federal indictment lays out, Smirnov didn’t even establish contact with any Burisma officials until 2017—after Biden had left office, and well after Shokin’s dismissal in 2016. What’s more, Smirnov’s dealings with Burisma were strictly “routine and unextraordinary,” in the euphemistic phrasing of the indictment. He tried to persuade Burisma executives to launch an IPO for American investors, even though the company repeatedly stressed that it had no interest in the plan and preferred to acquire a US-based energy company outright. He and an American associate also tried to sell the company on a crypto investment, which Burisma officials also wisely and firmly declined. Throughout these discussions, Smirnov would text photos of business cards from Burisma officials to his FBI handler—an almost poignant effort to convince both his handler and himself of his own importance and high-level connections.

Still, no one should lament the misplaced investment enthusiasms of Alexander Smirnov. However clueless and off-base his business overtures may have been, Smirnov did astutely size up the market for politically inspired lies with an expert’s eye—while soliciting some timely offline fine-tuning from Russian intelligence. As Messrs. Hannity, Grassley, and Comer can all attest, that’s a booming growth sector.

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Chris Lehmann

Chris Lehmann is the D.C. Bureau chief for The Nation and a contributing editor at The Baffler. He was formerly editor of The Baffler and The New Republic, and is the author, most recently, of The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (Melville House, 2016).

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