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Another ‘trusted’ FBI informant discredited, renewing concerns over bureau’s vetting

In the two most politically sensitive FBI criminal cases since Watergate, the Justice Department has concluded the bureau’s confidential human sources had serious flaws that went undetected for years by the agents handling them.

Published: February 15, 2024 11:00pm

Updated: February 15, 2024 11:55pm

The unexpected federal indictment Thursday of an FBI informant at the center of one of the Biden impeachment allegations created whiplash inside the media and Congress.

After all, just a few short months earlier, FBI Director Christopher Wray had vouched for the source, Alexander Smirnov, telling lawmakers his name shouldn’t be disclosed because he had been “invaluable” to law enforcement and was so “trusted and credible” the U.S. government had paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars for his information.

Now, no matter how Special Counsel David Weiss’ indictment ends up – and Smirnov is presumed innocent until proven guilty – there is a harsh reality facing Congress and the Justice Department that is blinking red for attention.

In the two most politically sensitive FBI criminal cases since Watergate a half century ago – Donald Trump’s Russia collusion inquiry and Joe Biden’s Ukraine bribery allegation – the Justice Department has concluded the bureau’s confidential human sources had serious flaws that went undetected for years by the agents handling them.

Three separate DOJ investigations have now found evidence that has discredited handling of FBI informants Christopher Steele and Igor Danchenko in the Russia collusion case and Smirnov in the Biden inquiry.

Wray has tried to assure his overseers – most recently Special Counsel John Durham last year – that he has made reforms that solved the problem. But Smirnov’s indictment as laid out by Weiss strongly suggests otherwise.

For the first time, Smirnov, a resident of Los Angeles, was publicly identified in Weiss’ indictment as the informant who provided the allegations contained in an explosive FD-1023 FBI report released by Republicans in Congress last year.

That report dated from summer 2020 alleged that Joe Biden (identified in the indictment as “Public Official 1”) and Hunter Biden (identified in the indictment as “Businessman 1”)  had made a deal with officials of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings to help get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired in return for bribes of $5 million each.

In fact, Weiss alleged Thursday, Smirnov made up the allegations because he disliked Joe Biden running for president.

“Despite repeated admonishments that he must provide truthful information to the FBI and that he must not fabricate evidence, the Defendant provided false derogatory information to the FBI” about the Bidens after Joe Biden became a candidate for president in 2020, the indictment declared.

“In short, the Defendant transformed his routine and un-extraordinary business contacts with Burisma in 2017 and later into bribery allegations against Public Official 1, the presumptive nominee of one of the two major political parties for President, after expressing bias against Public Official 1 and his candidacy."

You can read the indictment here.

Prosecutors also provided stinging evidence that Smirnov's FBI handler ignored or failed to appreciate the bias, including text messages between them in which bias was expressed. Prosecutors also made clear the handler failed to detect major inaccuracies in the informant’s story, including dates and times of travel and people who were with him.

“Contrary to what the Defendant told the Handler, Associate 1 did not meet with the Defendant and Burisma Official 1 at a café in Vienna around the time that Public Official 1 ‘made a public statement about [the then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General] being corrupt, and that he should be fired/removed from office,” which occurred in December 2015,” the indictment said, citing one of several inconsistencies Weiss’s team turned up.

House impeachment investigators and Senate Republicans who spent months investigating the informant’s claims since the FBI document surfaced were incredulous Thursday night that it took the Justice Department more than three and a half years to conclude the informant gave false information or that Wray would still be vouching for the source to Congress as late as last summer.

“FBI officials and Director Wray refused to release the form publicly because they claimed it would jeopardize the safety of a confidential human source who they claimed was invaluable to the FBI,” House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer said. “When asked by the committee about their confidence in the confidential human source, the FBI told the committee the confidential human source was credible and trusted, had worked with the FBI for over a decade, and had been paid six figures.

“The FBI’s actions in this matter are very concerning. The FBI had this form for years and it appears they did nothing to verify the troubling claims contained within the record until Congress became aware of and demanded access to them.”

Democrats crowed, suggesting the alleged implosion of the informant’s story was grounds to end the whole impeachment inquiry by Comer and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan against Joe Biden.

“Chairman @jimjordan has said that the ‘best example’ and ‘most compelling evidence’ of wrongdoing by POTUS are the Burisma allegations that relied solely on an FBI source’s info,” Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., tweeted on X. “Today, that FBI source was indicted for lying about Burisma. Time to end this sham impeachment.”

Republican won’t do that because they have evidence from official government documents that Joe Biden changed U.S. policy when he forced the firing of the Ukraine prosecutor back as vice president in 2015-16 and testimony from Biden family insider that Joe Biden met with his son’s foreign clients from China, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan around the time the first family was getting paid.

“To be clear, the impeachment inquiry is not reliant on the FBI’s FD-1023,” Comer said. “It is based on a large record of evidence, including bank records and witness testimony, revealing that Joe Biden knew of and participated in his family’s business dealings. ... President Biden continues to lie to the American people about this matter and the American people demand the truth.”

Retired FBI intelligence chief Kevin Brock said the bureau likely objected to the congressional release of Smirnov’s FD-1023 form because it knew such reports contain raw and uncorroborated information. He also cautioned that just because Smirnoff got indicted, doesn’t mean the FBI at some point didn’t detect his alleged deception.

“It can be argued plausibly that since the Bidens have not been charged with accepting a $5 million bribe in the four years since Smirnov provided the information, perhaps FBI follow up investigation found the information insufficient or unsupportable or unable to be corroborated,” he said.

Brock said, however, the well-documented abuses of the Russia collusion case has created a distrust in the bureau practices that will affect how the current information is viewed by the public.

“I can’t speak to Director Wray’s comments about the trustworthiness of Smirnov as a source, but I will say that I personally handled a number of sources who were monumentally duplicitous at times while also being dead on at times.  Managing sources is one of the most difficult aspects of the FBI Agent job,” he said.

”That said, the gross abuse by Comey’s Crossfire Hurricane team who used information from then source Christopher Steele that they knew was false to support FISA affidavits has opened the FBI up to second guessing in all subsequent politically charged investigations using confidential human sources,” he added.

For the American public, there is that essential question: Can the FBI be trusted to handle and vet informants in politically consequential cases that are impacting elections?

Last year, Special Counsel Durham’s report that concluded the FBI never had any meaningful evidence to investigate Trump for Russia collusion from 2016 to 2019 raised serious concerns about one of the key informants in that case. Durham actually charged the informant, Igor Danchenko, with lying to the FBI and a jury in Washington, D.C., acquitted him.

But Durham’s final report found plenty of concerning behavior by the bureau in its handling of Danchenko, saying the bureau ignored for years warning signs about the informant, including an unresolved Russian counterespionage case and an alleged effort to try to obtain classified U.S. information.

The report also found the FBI failed to vet the concerns and continued paying Danchenko large sums despite enormous red flags and using information from Danchenko to try to corroborate another suspect piece of evidence in the Russia collusion probe, the now-infamous Steele dossier.

“It is extremely concerning that the FBI failed to deal with the prior unresolved counterespionage case on Danchenko,” Durham wrote. “Given Danchenko's known contacts with Russian intelligence officers and his documented prior pitch for classified information, the Crossfire Hurricane team's failure to properly consider and address the espionage case prior to opening Danchenko as a CHS is difficult to explain, particularly given their awareness that Danchenko was the linchpin to the uncorroborated allegations contained in the Steele Reports.”

You can read the full Durham report here.

Even more disturbing, Durham wrote, FBI executives in headquarters and the Washington D.C. field office “resisted efforts to have Danchenko closed as a source. Instead, management supported continued payments to him, requiring FBI Headquarters approval of sizable amounts of money and insisted that Danchenko was very valuable to the FBI's counterintelligence program.”

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found similar fault in 2019 with the handling of Steele, a former MI-6 British agent who was simultaneously working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign while providing dirt on Trump as an FBI informant in the Russia collusion case.

In fact, Horowitz found the FBI failed to corroborate most all of Steele’s allegations, learned of factual errors and yet continued to use his information to support a FISA warrant spying on Trump campaign figures.

“The FBI obtained additional information raising significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting, the FBI failed to reassess the Steele reporting relied upon in the FISA applications, and did not fully advise” prosecutors or the FISA court, Horowitz wrote.

You can read the Horowitz report here.

There were also CIA concerns that Steele had been infiltrated by Russian intelligence and possible fed disinformation, but the FBI did not readily reassess Steele as a source, the IG wrote in footnotes later declassified by the DOJ.

“The FBI received a U.S. intelligence report on January 12, 2017, warning of an inaccuracy in the dossier related to Michael Cohen, and assessing that the material was “part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations,” Horowitz noted as one of several missed red flags in the FBI’s handling of the Steele dossier.

The FBI continued to use information form Steele’s dossier in the probe even after terminating Steele as an informant for unauthorized contacts with the news media, investigators found.

A year later when the FBI re-interviewed Steele, the British spy clearly told the FBI he and his business partner were motivated by a bias against Trump, a problem similar to what Weiss alleged Thursday about Smirnov and Biden.

“STEELE and BURROWS described President TRUMP as their ‘main opponent’ and indicated that they were fearful about how TRUMP 's presidency negatively impacted the historical UK-US alliance and the US-UK special relationship,” the FBI wrote in a debriefing memo obtained by Just the News.

 

Horowitz and others have found the FBI's vetting and managing of human sources is far more widespread, and often violates the DOJ's rules by not conducting regular validation reviews of long-term informants.

"We found that the FBI did not comply with the AG Guidelines' requirements and its own policies and procedures for managing long-term CHSs and, consequently, a backlog of CHSs awaited validation," Horowitz wrote in one such warning in 2020.

"In addition, the FBI's long-term CHS validation reports were insufficient because they did not ensure the full scope of a long-term CHS's operation was reviewed and FBI validation personnel told us they were discouraged from documenting conclusions and recommendations," he also said.

 

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