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Why the GOP ignored warnings about their key anti-Biden witness

Republican crusaders, a little too eager to impeach President Biden, ignored warnings and relied on a discredited witness. The question now is how and why.


The House Republicans’ crusade to impeach President Joe Biden has suffered a series of debacles, though the most recent one is arguably the most brutal. Eleven days ago, the GOP’s star witness — the man at the heart of the party’s case — was arrested for lying to the FBI about the Bidens.

Soon after, as regular readers know, the public learned that the same witness, Alexander Smirnov, according to a Trump-appointed prosecutor, peddled false claims he received from foreign intelligence officials, including lies from Russia.

Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado told CNN last week that House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan were warned in advance to be skeptical of Smirnov’s claims, but they ran with the nonsense anyway. It led CNN’s Kaitlin Collins to ask Buck, “So, James Comer and Jim Jordan, they knew that this was not corroborated information, yet they still went public with it, talked about it, on television, used it to fuel these investigations, regardless?”

The GOP congressman replied, “That’s what it appears.”

The question now isn’t so much whether Smirnov’s bogus claims have been discredited. Even Jordan conceded late last week that the informant’s allegations no longer appear credible. Rather, the focus at this point is the point Buck emphasized: Comer and Jordan received explicit warnings to be more responsible, and they and their allies apparently chose to ignore those warnings. The New York Times reported:

[What congressional Republicans] who amplified the claims said in their breathless statements was that F.B.I. officials had warned them repeatedly to be cautious about the accusation, because it was uncorroborated and its credibility unknown. All that the form proved, federal law enforcement officials explained, was that a confidential source had said something, and they had written it down. And now federal prosecutors say the claim was made up.

In fact, these GOP lawmakers weren’t just told that the anti-Biden claims were unverified. The Times report added that Comer, in particular, was told by a leading FBI official that “revealing the unsubstantiated claims would endanger other confidential sources and have a ‘chilling effect’ on recruiting others.”

When the FBI’s Trump-appointed director, Christopher Wray, resisted Republican calls to provide them with an unredacted copy of Smirnov’s discredited claims, GOP lawmakers even threatened to hold Way in contempt of Congress.

Republicans simply didn’t care — about whether the claims were unverified, whether the claims were credible, or whether there might be consequences from repeatedly blasting the allegations to anyone who’d listen to the party’s propaganda campaign. The Times added:

[A]fter House Republicans threatened to hold Mr. Wray in contempt of Congress for refusing to share the form, the bureau reluctantly agreed to provide a redacted copy for viewing at a secure facility on Capitol Hill. And several of the Republicans who saw it ignored the bureau’s warnings by describing its contents and citing it as proof positive that Mr. Biden was corrupt.

Except, the “proof” was nonsense. The GOP’s star witness, as both parties now concede, was lying. Republicans built their case for impeaching a sitting president on a foundation made of quicksand.

For now, let’s put aside the fact that the GOP senators and House members who championed false claims and ignored warnings haven’t yet expressed any contrition. On the contrary, these Republicans are pretending as if they haven’t done anything wrong.

Let’s instead consider two related questions.

First, why did the Republican lawmakers ignore repeated warnings? Was it simply because they were desperate to undermine Biden, creating an indifference to the truth, or was there something more even alarming going on?

On the latter possibility, Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman of New York has called for a Justice Department investigation into the Republican lawmakers who pushed Smirnov’s claims, to determine whether or not the GOP lawmakers knew the informant “was spreading Russian disinformation.”

Second, when exactly did Republicans come to realize they were relying on false claims from an informant who peddled bogus allegations after interacting with foreign intelligence services? Frank Figliuzzi, who served as the assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, wrote for MSNBC last week, “We need to know whether the so-called whistleblowers were well-meaning dupes or if they were deliberately carrying out Russia’s bidding.”

This post updates our related earlier coverage.