Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Smirnov Indictment Does Not Vindicate the Bidens


President Joe Biden and son Hunter Biden disembark from Air Force One at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, N.Y., February 4, 2023. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

There is already extensive evidence, having nothing to do with Smirnov, of corrupt Biden-family influence-peddling.

Biden Justice Department prosecutor and special counsel” David Weiss’s job is to protect President Biden. That is the thing we must always bear in mind, including in the peculiar case of Alexander Smirnov, whom Weiss has just indicted and imprisoned in a transparent attempt to knock down an allegation House Republicans foolishly ran with when it was both uncorroborated and not essential to their illustration of the Bidens’ sleazy relationship with Burisma, the corrupt Ukrainian energy company.

Another thing to remember: According to Democratic Party dogma, all evidence of the Biden family influencing-peddling business — and of the president’s being up to his neck in it — is Russian disinformation. It’s a laughable assertion, but Democrats touted it like there was no tomorrow during the 2019 Trump–Ukraine impeachment. It’s their story and Weiss is helping them stick to it.

As I pointed out in a column yesterday, the indictment filed against Smirnov by Weiss last week is one of the most peculiar charging documents you’ll ever encounter. It was filed in the Central District of California, headquartered in Los Angeles — you may remember it as the district in which Weiss, cross-his-heart, really, really wanted to indict Hunter Biden on tax charges but, he told investigating IRS and FBI agents, was blocked from doing so by the Biden-appointed U.S. attorney, E. Martin Estrada. At least that was the story until the outraged IRS agents went public. At that point, Weiss needed a new story to avoid embarrassing his boss, Attorney General Merrick Garland, who would not have tolerated such obstruction unless it was exactly what he wanted when it came to Hunter Biden. So Weiss reset: Gosh darn, it was all a big misunderstanding.

But, of course, there is no misunderstanding: The Biden Justice Department did not want to indict Hunter Biden, despite a wealth of incriminating evidence. That’s why Weiss sat on his hands for years as the statute of limitations gradually made charges disappear — especially charges arising out of influence-peddling from 2014–16, when Joe Biden was vice president.

It’s also why Weiss initially tried to close the Hunter probe without charges until the IRS whistleblowers’ revelations made that politically impossible. At that point, recall, Weiss tried to disappear the case with a sweetheart plea deal so preposterous, so in defiance of normal Justice Department practice, that he and Hunter’s lawyers couldn’t slide it past an alert federal judge who asked a few basic questions that turned out to be unanswerable.

Only when the plea bargain blew up did Garland, in a “Clean Up on Aisle Five” move, appoint Weiss as special counsel. It was a Biden DOJ classic: The point of a special counsel is to bring in a lawyer from outside the government because the DOJ has a conflict of interest that prevents it from prosecuting the case ethically; so, in violation of the special-counsel regulations, Garland appointed not only a lawyer from inside the government, but Weiss himself — the very lawyer from inside the Biden Justice Department whose prior years of undermining the case perfectly illustrated that the Biden DOJ was hopelessly conflicted, protecting the president rather than enforcing the law.

And then, naturally, Weiss did his part. First, he indicted Hunter on gun charges — only after delaying so long that Hunter now has a potential Second Amendment defense that would not have been legally available to him years earlier, when Weiss should have been charged him. Subsequently, he indicted Hunter on the tax charges (at least some of the ones that were still left after Weiss made sure the worst of the Burisma-related crimes were now time-barred). Based on this, as night follows day, the media–Democrat complex crowed: See what an honest, ethical DOJ and “special counsel” we have here — indicting the president’s son without fear or favor! And that sure has fooled enough of the gullible and partisan that Weiss’s reputation-rehab project is at least a partial success.

But it’s a joke.

With the 2024 election on the horizon, there was no politically feasible way around these indictments once the sweetheart bargain imploded. Not only does the gun case involve serious felonies for which ordinary Americans are incarcerated (even if the gun in the indictment is different from the — uncharged — gun that naked, drugged-out Hunter is depicted brandishing in infamous photos mined from the “Laptop from Hell”). The Biden-Democrat firearms obsessions could not withstand a second attempt by the Biden Justice Department to make Hunter’s case go away. The best Hunter’s lawyers can do is grouse that if the defendant’s name weren’t Biden, he wouldn’t have been charged. That’s only true if they mean “charged in 2023”; in a normal case, if the accused caught in illegal possession of a gun or two in 2018 were not the president’s son, he would have been convicted and sentenced to prison by 2019.

As for the tax charges, Weiss has done what he could do for Hunter, in particular, by sitting on his hands while the statute of limitations lapsed on the most serious offenses. Hunter, however, is incidental. The objective here is to maintain the fiction that Joe Biden has nothing whatsoever to do with the Biden family business of cashing in on his political influence — no matter how many meetings and phone calls Joe had with Biden family business partners, and no matter how many rides Joe gave Hunter on Air Force Two to seal deals with CCP apparatchiks.

In that vein, perhaps you detected something intriguing about Weiss’s indictment of Hunter for not paying taxes on the money he “earned” by touting his father’s government power: The name “Joe Biden” does not appear in it — not even as “unidentified Highly Influential Father No. 1,” as we’d expect from one of those hilarious let’s-not-name-names DOJ charging documents. In the Weiss charging materials we’ve seen so far (including a statement of facts he obviously delegated Hunter’s lawyers to write), the president’s ne’er-do-well son earns big money as a high-end lawyer and business tycoon. Joe Biden? Nope, never heard of him.

But, alas, they sure knew who Joe was at Burisma . . . which brings us back to Smirnov.

He is the source for the notorious 1023 report (a standard FBI form memorializing an interview of a confidential informant). In that document, Smirnov, an informant with a track record of providing solid information, reported that he’d been told by Burisma boss Mykola (“Nicolay”) Zlochevsky that Zlochevsky had paid $10 million in bribes to Joe and Hunter Biden. The head Burisma honcho was further said to have described the transactions as so byzantine it would take agents a decade to trace the funds.

According to the new indictment, in a 2017 interview by his handling agent, Smirnov merely noted en passant that Zlochevsky had put Hunter on Burisma’s board of directors; he made no mention of the sensational bribery allegation. Three years later, when he was reinterviewed in June 2020, Smirnov dubiously claimed to remember it. The indictment says Smirnov maintained that he learned of this bribery scheme circa 2015–16, in meetings and phone calls with Zlochevsky and other Burisma execs, some of them in the presence of two other business associates he identified. Smirnov is also said to have reported that Zlochevsky’s stated objective — in the bribe and in paying Hunter millions of dollars to sit on the board — was to induce then-vice president Biden to pressure the Ukrainian government into firing Viktor Shokin, the prosecutor who was investigating Bursima. (By his own account, Biden did get Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to fire Shokin — although Biden apologists insist this was because the prosecutor, not Biden, was corrupt.)

Now, there is no doubt that House Republicans, led by James Comer and Jim Jordan (chairmen of, respectively, the Oversight and Intelligence Committees) got out over their skis on this one. They only knew about the 1023 form; they did not know Smirnov’s name and could do no background investigation of him. FBI director Chris Wray resisted their demands to surrender the 1023, acceding only when threatened with contempt. Wray warned the House that the information in the report was uncorroborated. Now, that could mean the FBI did not do enough follow-up, but it could also mean the Bureau tried but couldn’t either verify or disprove the claims.

On that score, if the allegations in Weiss’s indictment of Smirnov are true, what we appear to have here is an episode of galactic government incompetence.

Weiss’s false-statement theory is that the Biden-incriminating conversations Smirnov had in 2015–16 could not have happened because the travel documents and available witnesses prove that Smirnov was not introduced to Burisma execs until 2017 — when Biden was already out of office and Shokin had already been fired. It will be interesting to see how that shakes out. Smirnov may have shown up for his 2023 reinterview thinking it was a normal debriefing, of the kind he’d been through countless times; but Weiss’s investigators appear to have set up the session so they could make a false-statements case on him — i.e., get him to repeat his alleged 2020 misinformation, then charge him. Yet the indictment does not indicate that any of the interviews of Smirnov were recorded or transcribed. When it is alleged that a person lied in an un-transcribed interview, the government has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt exactly what the witness said; when the FBI and Justice Department could easily have arranged for a recording to avoid any ambiguity about that, yet chose not to, juries tend to wonder why.

Parsed carefully, the form 1023 summary of Smirnov’s statements, and similar recitations in the indictment, are not crystal-clear on what exactly Smirnov said versus what the FBI interviewers assumed he meant as they understood the context. And as I pointed out Friday, there is no indication that investigators gave Smirnov notice that they suspected him of lying, much less confronted him directly on what they now allege are false statements. (Had he been confronted and then plausibly contended there was a misunderstanding, that would have made it difficult to charge him — and it sure looks like Weiss wanted to charge him.)

As I also pointed out, the indictment does not explain why Weiss took no action for three years after learning of Smirnov’s explosive allegations. Similarly, it does not explain how, given that Smirnov provided the germane travel documents in 2020, it took some three years for the Federal Bureau of, yes, Investigation to figure out that the documents proved Smirnov was lying. Nor does the indictment give us an inkling as to why Smirnov, who doesn’t seem to be an idiot, would have given the Bureau documents that, to hear Weiss tell it, patently disproved his story.

In any event, what cannot be gainsaid is that the Bureau has a track record — or, at least, some of its agents since disciplined or pushed out by Wray have a track record — of working with Democrats to suppress derogatory information about Biden, customarily dismissing it as (sing it with me!) Russian disinformation. Wray clearly tried hard to warn Comer, Jordan, and other Republicans not to put too much stock in Smirnov’s unverified claims, but today’s Trumpy GOP doesn’t trust the FBI (including the director appointed by Trump) — not without justification, given the Bureau’s collusion with the Clinton campaign and other Democrats to portray Trump as a Putin operative from 2016–19, then its role in inducing social-media platforms to whitewash Biden-corruption reporting in 2020. Ergo, ignoring Wray, Republicans grabbed the Smirnov 1023 form and ran with it.

Why was this foolish? Because there is already extensive evidence, having nothing to do with Smirnov, that the Bidens acted corruptly in connection with Burisma.

To be clear, corruptly does not necessarily mean illegally. Democrats conflate the two (as politicians jammed up in corruption cases tend to do). They gruffly insist that Republicans have failed to prove that Joe Biden did anything wrong. Given the weighty evidence of lucrative influence-peddling, however, what they must mean is that Republicans have not established that Joe Biden did anything provably felonious. They can’t credibly say it wasn’t sleazy (not that that stops them from saying it), because it was sleazy by any measure.

In 2014, Zlochevsky was widely reputed to be thoroughly corrupt — which was not news to then-vice president Biden, who headed up what is referred to without a hint of irony as the Obama administration’s anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine and elsewhere. Despite this, the vice president’s son, Hunter, was slotted onto Burisma’s board in early 2014 (i.e., right after the Russia-friendly Ukrainian regime of which Zlochevsky was part was pushed out, inducing Zlochevsky to flee).

On the day Hunter joined Burisma, its CFO, Vadym Pozharsky, sent him an “urgent message” email about the aggressive investigations Zlochevsky was facing from the Ukrainian government. “We urgently need your advice,” Pozharsky pleaded, “on how you could use your influence to convey a message/signal, etc., to stop what we consider to be politically motivated actions.” Over the ensuing years, Zlochevsky lavished millions on the vice president’s son, who had no relevant expertise. Just in case the Burisma assessment of Hunter’s value-added wasn’t clear enough, Zlochevsky slashed Hunter’s retainer in half as soon as Joe Biden left the vice presidency in 2017.

Hunter’s business partner, Devon Archer, was also planted on Burisma’s board. Archer, a Democratic activist close to then–secretary of state John Kerry, is a convicted fraudster (Hunter was implicated but not charged in the case). On April 16, 2015, Hunter and Archer arranged a dinner at Washington’s chic Café Milano for some of their important business partners to meet Vice President Biden. Among them was Pozharsky, who later thanked Hunter “for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together.” (Alas, Zlochevsky couldn’t attend, being on the lam and all.)

The good feelings ebbed when it dawned on Burisma that Hunter and Archer were not producing the relief Zlochevsky needed. On November 2, 2015, as preparations were being made for a Burisma board meeting in Dubai (where Zlochevsky was holed up), Pozharsky emailed Hunter, Archer, and Biden confidant Eric Scherwin, bemoaning the “lack of concrete tangible results that we set out to achieve in the first place.” In particular, the Burisma CFO carped that planning documents he’d just gotten from Hunter failed to

offer any names of top US officials here in Ukraine (for instance, the US Ambassador) or Ukrainian officials (the President of Ukraine, chief of staff, Prosecutor General) as key targets for improving Nicolay’s [i.e., Zlochevsky’s] case and his situation in Ukraine.

Pozharsky allowed that it was often unwise to put such things in writing. But he stressed that it was vital “that all parties in fact understand the true purpose of the engagement and all our joint efforts” — an obvious reference to Hunter’s engagement by Burisma. Pozharsky then addressed the imperative of achieving our “final goals,” demanding a list of “concrete deliverables”: the names of high-ranking, influential current and former American government officials who could come to Ukraine imminently for the “ultimate purpose to close down for any cases/pursuits against Nicolay [Zlochevsky] in Ukraine.”

In early December, Hunter and Archer were in Dubai for the Burisma board meeting. At the same time, on December 4, Scherwin had an email exchange with Vice President Biden’s communications director at the White House, Kate Bedingfield. After Scherwin suggested talking points on how the Obama/Biden administration should respond to press inquiries about the curious role of the vice president’s son on the board of a reputedly corrupt Ukrainian energy company, Bedingfield assured Scherwin that the “VP signed off on these.”

Meanwhile, in Dubai on the same day, Pozharsky phoned Hunter after the board meeting to say that Zlochevsky urgently needed to speak with him. The two top Burisma execs thus hustled over to the Four Seasons resort to meet with Hunter and Archer. When they got there, after complaining again about the strain of the investigations, Zlochevsky bluntly put Hunter on the spot: “Can you ring your dad?” Hunter did as the man paying him the big bucks asked, calling his father.

Moments later, the vice president of the United States came to the phone. Hunter put his father on speaker and explained that he and Archer were sitting together with “Nikolay and Vadym.” No further elaboration about the Ukrainians’ names was needed: remember, Pozharsky had supped with Vice President Biden at the Café Milano and, well, everyone knew exactly who “Nicolay” Zlochevsky was. While the conversation mainly stayed at the level of pleasantries, Hunter stressed that the two Ukrainians “need our support.”

By the way, that information comes from that notorious font of Russian disinformation, Devon Archer.

It was just a few days later that Vice President Biden flew to Ukraine, where he duly pressured President Poroshenko to fire the prosecutor, Shokin, who was investigating Zlochevsky and Burisma. Biden warned that if Shokin was not fired, U.S. financial aid desperately needed by Kyiv would be withheld.

By the way, that information comes from that notorious font of Russian disinformation, Joe Biden.

Shokin was indeed fired in October 2016. When it finally happened, there was delirium at Blue Star Strategies, a lobbying firm with powerhouse Biden and Clinton ties. Hunter Biden had brought Blue Star in to champion the cause of Zlochevsky and Burisma, including to the U.S. government. On October 11, 2016, Scherwin emailed Blue Star’s Sally Painter gushing, “We won and in less than a year. Yea!!!” Painter gleefully responded, “Thanks. U brought us in so take a victory lap.”

Blue Star had not registered with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Now, you may be thinking: Isn’t it a felony to lobby the government on behalf of foreign concerns, such as Burisma and Zlochevsky, without registering under FARA? Well, yes. But see, that’s not a problem here, no siree, because “special counsel” David Weiss and the Biden Justice Department first allowed Blue Star to register retroactivelysix years after the fact, and then quietly notified Blue Star that it was no longer a subject of the investigation.

But hey, at least Weiss is gonna nail Alexander Smirnov, right?