Opinion | What did GOP lawmakers know about Alexander Smirnov, and when did they know it?

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Opinion | What did GOP lawmakers know about Alexander Smirnov, and when did they know it?

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Russia, Russia, Russia” is Donald Trump’s mocking mantra whenever someone raises the myriad investigative findings and concerns around him and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. This week, though, we were reminded that the concerns remain valid. Alexander Smirnov — who stands charged with fabricating a bribe allegation involving then-Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden and a Ukrainian company — appeared before a federal magistrate judge on Tuesday. Then came reports from the Department of Justice that Smirnov admitted that Russian intelligence officials were involved in concocting the disinformation he gave the FBI.

A Russian operation that falsely accuses a U.S. president is bad enough. Republican members of Congress pouncing upon that false information in hopes of impeaching the president is even worse.

A Russian operation that falsely accuses a sitting U.S. president is bad enough. Republican members of Congress pouncing upon that false information in hopes of impeaching the president is even worse.

When the federal magistrate judge in Las Vegas released Smirnov pending trial, the Department of Justice was so concerned about a flight risk that it successfully appealed the decision. Smirnov was re-arrested Thursday and detained.

Smirnov is an enigma. The DOJ can’t confirm his actual profession. (He says he’s in “security.”) He holds U.S. and Israeli passports. According to a New York Times report, “It is not clear, either in court filings or public records, where Mr. Smirnov was born. He is fluent in Russian, speaks English with a heavy accent and might have roots in Ukraine, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.” Prosecutors say he alternately refers to his romantic partner as his girlfriend and his wife. Prosecutors claim Smirnov has access to over $6 million in cash, but say he conveniently omitted that in a court statement. The only thing the government seems to be certain about is that Smirnov is a serial liar with connections to Russian intelligence officials.

There’s also the fact that Smirnov was an FBI source for over a decade.

The mystery of this case involves more than Smirnov himself. There are at least two questions we need answered.

First, who passed along this Russian disinformation to members of Congress? Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who swallowed the claims hook, line and sinker, has credited “brave and heroic whistleblowers” for alerting him that an FBI source report form, an FD-1023, detailed an alleged bribe from Ukrainian firm Burisma. Whoever passed that information to Congress clearly had access to an official FBI document, a document containing information that the FBI had doubted for years. We need to know whether the so-called whistleblowers were well-meaning dupes or if they were deliberately carrying out Russia’s bidding. Second, did Republican Congress members pursue impeachment of Biden even after they knew Smirnov wasn’t credible?

Once they were tipped off to the existence of the FD-1023, Grassley, along with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., demanded the FBI turn over the unredacted form for them to use in a potential impeachment inquiry. Grassley accused the FBI of trying to hide the reporting, and once it was in his possession, he proclaimed in a July news release:

“For the better part of a year, I’ve been pushing the Justice Department and FBI to provide details on its handling of very significant allegations from a trusted FBI informant implicating then-Vice President Biden in a criminal bribery scheme. While the FBI sought to obfuscate and redact, the American people can now read this document for themselves, without the filter of politicians or bureaucrats, thanks to brave and heroic whistleblowers.”

Comer claims that Smirnov’s false reporting wasn’t that important to his case, and Jordan says nothing has really changed about the fundamental facts of alleged wrongdoing.

Comer repeatedly asserted — often on far-right media platforms — that the investigation into Biden’s family was “credible” and founded upon Smirnov’s claims. The problem is that at some point, according to Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., Congress was warned that the Smirnov story may not be credible. We need to know precisely when members were warned, who provided that warning and why some GOP members, according to Buck, decided to press on anyway.

Even with the revelation that Smirnov’s story has folded like a broken lawn chair, Jordan and Comer are still holding on to the hope that Republicans can impeach Biden. Comer claims that Smirnov’s alleged false reporting wasn’t that important to his case, and Jordan says nothing has really changed about the fundamental facts of alleged wrongdoing. It seems to not matter to them that their star witness has reportedly confessed to being a mouthpiece for Russian intelligence. (Grassley hasn’t made any official statements related to Smirnov’s arrest.)

Smirnov’s arrest and confession won’t end Russia’s disinformation campaign or Putin’s attempt to help further divide our nation. If Trump sycophants like Grassley, Comer and Jordan continue down this now-discredited track toward a bogus impeachment, then they will have taken the baton from Smirnov and joined Team Russia in a race where the only winner can be Putin.

Frank Figliuzzi

Frank Figliuzzi is an MSNBC columnist and a national security contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. He was the assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, where he served 25 years as a special agent and directed all espionage investigations across the government. He is the author of “The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau’s Code of Excellence.”

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