DOJ Warned Republicans About Publicizing Unverified Report From FBI Informant

An official told lawmakers "the FBI regularly receives information from sources with significant potential biases."

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department told Republicans last year that it would be a mistake to publicize raw paperwork reflecting an informant’s tip to the FBI.

Republicans had found out a confidential human source told his FBI handler in 2020 about a Ukrainian oligarch saying he bribed Joe Biden. They demanded the Justice Department hand over the so-called FD-1023 form documenting the tip.

In response to a subpoena, the Justice Department said such documents should never be made public, warning it could endanger their sources and that the forms generally contain unverified and incomplete information told to an FBI agent.

“Recording the information does not validate the information, establish its credibility, or weigh it against other information known or developed by the FBI,” Christopher Dunham, from the FBI’s office of congressional affairs, said in a May letter to House Oversight Committee chair James Comer (R-Ky.).

“The mere existence of such a document would establish little beyond the fact that a confidential human source provided information and the FBI recorded it,” Dunham said. “Indeed, the FBI regularly receives information from sources with significant potential biases, motivations, and knowledge, including drug traffickers, members of organized crime, or even terrorists.”

Republicans did not heed the warning.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) obtained the form from an unknown source and posted it on his Senate website. The document described the informant’s account of conversation with Mykola Zlochevsky, head of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, and other Burisma officials. In one conversation, Zlochevsky said he’d paid both Hunter and Joe Biden $5 million in bribes.

The unverified bribery allegation soon became a core part of House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry against the president. The supposed bribe fit a narrative that Joe Biden, when he was vice president in 2015, demanded Ukraine fire its prosecutor general in order to protect Burisma from a criminal investigation. The president’s son, Hunter Biden, held a position on Burisma’s board at the time.

As Republicans put it in a document outlining the basis for their impeachment inquiry last fall, the form alleged “that President Biden directly participated in a bribery scheme involving Burisma.”

Then, last week, the bribe claim collapsed in spectacular fashion when the Justice Department announced charges against the informant, revealing him to be a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen named Alexander Smirnov and accusing him of inventing the allegation because he didn’t like Joe Biden.

“We were warned at the time that we received the document outlining this witness’s testimony. We were warned that the credibility of this statement was not known,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), an impeachment skeptic, told CNN on Wednesday. “And yet, 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.”

Democrats have called on Republicans to call off their impeachment inquiry.

“They were willing to use anything they could get their hands on to make incredibly bold accusations that now results with them having egg on their face because they knew this was uncorroborated,” Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Thursday. “They knew it was unverified and they knew there was a lot of evidence to the contrary and yet they ran with this.”

Comer has said the FBI tip wasn’t the lynchpin of the impeachment inquiry, which has also examined whether Joe Biden participated in his son’s business deals.

As a senator, Grassley has not been a formal part of the impeachment push, even though he was the one who obtained the FBI document. He and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) conducted their own investigation into the Bidens and Burisma in 2020, finding it wasn’t clear whether Hunter Biden’s job had affected U.S. foreign policy.

Grassley maintained last year that he was less interested in the truth of the bribery allegation than whether the FBI had conducted a thorough investigation. He first asked the FBI to hand over documents about the Bidens and Zlochevsky in October 2022.

“Since October 2022, Senator Grassley has had a single aim: to ensure the DOJ and FBI investigated the FD-1023,” a Grassley spokesperson said. “DOJ’s indictment makes clear that, without Senator Grassley’s oversight and exposure of the FD-1023, the agency would have continued neglecting its duties and failing to provide the transparency the American people deserve.”

Comer also complained last year that it appeared the FBI had not investigated the allegation.

“They didn’t investigate a single darn thing with respect to the Biden bribery allegation,” Comer told HuffPost in June. “They never opened an investigation until I subpoenaed it.”

A former U.S. attorney who oversaw the intake of derogatory material from Ukraine told lawmakers during an October interview the bribery allegation had “indicia of credibility” and was passed along to David Weiss, the federal prosecutor overseeing a long-running investigation of Hunter Biden. Weiss only pursued the tip after Republicans made the document public, prosecutors said in the Smirnov indictment, and investigators poked holes in Smirnov’s story late last year partly by crosschecking it with travel records.

But one part of Smirnov’s report seemingly drew skepticism from Republicans right away: his claim that Zlochevsky had recordings of conversations with Joe and Hunter Biden. Several Republicans told conservative media they didn’t know if such recordings existed.

“We don’t know if they’re legit or not, but we know the foreign national claims he has them,” Comer told Newsmax in June. “This is the problem — the FBI never investigated this.”

One reason for skepticism that there are secret tapes of Zlochevsky talking to Joe Biden could be that, according to Hunter Biden and others who’ve spoken to him, Zlochevsky doesn’t speak English.

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