NATIONAL NEWS

Ex-FBI informant charged with lying about Bidens will appear in court as judge weighs his detention

Feb 25, 2024, 9:02 PM

FILE - Alexander Smirnov, second from right, leaves the courthouse on Feb. 20, 2024, in Las Vegas. ...

FILE - Alexander Smirnov, second from right, leaves the courthouse on Feb. 20, 2024, in Las Vegas. Smirnov, a former FBI informant charged with lying about a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden’s family, will appear in a California federal court on Monday, Feb. 26, as a judge considers whether he must remain behind bars while he awaits trial. Special counsel David Weiss’ office is pressing Judge Otis Wright II to keep Smirnov in jail, arguing the man who claims to have ties to Russian intelligence is likely to flee the country. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former FBI informant charged with fabricating a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden’s family is set to appear in a California federal court on Monday as a judge considers whether he must remain behind bars while he awaits trial.

Special counsel David Weiss’ office is pressing U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II to keep Alexander Smirnov in jail, arguing the man who claims to have ties to Russian intelligence is likely to flee the country.

A different judge last week released Smirnov from jail on electronic GPS monitoring, but Wright ordered the man to be re-arrested after prosecutors asked to reconsider Smirnov’s detention. Wright said in a written order that Smirnov’s lawyers’ efforts to free him was “likely to facilitate his absconding from the United States.”

In an emergency petition with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Smirnov’s lawyers said Wright did not have the authority to order Smirnov to be re-arrested. The defense also criticized what it described as “biased and prejudicial statements” from Wright insinuating that Smirnov’s lawyers were acting improperly by advocating for his release.

Smirnov is charged with falsely telling his FBI handler that executives from the Ukrainian energy company Burisma had paid President Biden and Hunter Biden $5 million each around 2015. The claim became central to the Republican impeachment inquiry of President Biden in Congress.

In urging the judge to keep Smirnov locked up, prosecutors said the man has reported to the FBI having contact with Russian intelligence-affiliated officials. Prosecutors wrote in court filings last week that Smirnov told investigators after his first arrest that officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story to him about Hunter Biden.

Smirnov, who holds dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship, is charged by the same Justice Department special counsel who has separately filed gun and tax charges against Hunter Biden.

Smirnov has not entered a plea to the charges, but his lawyers have said they look forward to defending him at trial. Defense attorneys have said in pushing for his release that he has no criminal history and has strong ties to the United States, including a longtime significant other who lives in Las Vegas.

In his ruling last week releasing Smirnov on GPS monitoring, U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Albregts in Las Vegas said he was concerned about his access to what prosecutors estimate is $6 million in funds, but noted that federal guidelines required him to fashion “the least restrictive conditions” ahead of his trial.

Smirnov had been an informant for more than a decade when he made the explosive allegations about the Bidens in June 2020, after “expressing bias” about Joe Biden as a presidential candidate, prosecutors said. Smirnov had only routine business dealings with Burisma starting in 2017, according to court documents. No evidence has emerged that Joe Biden acted corruptly or accepted bribes in his current role or previous office as vice president.

While his identity wasn’t publicly known before the indictment, Smirnov’s claims have played a major part in the Republican effort in Congress to investigate the president and his family, and helped spark what is now a House impeachment inquiry into Biden. Republicans pursuing investigations of the Bidens demanded the FBI release the unredacted form documenting the unverified allegations, though they acknowledged they couldn’t confirm if they were true.

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Richer reported from Boston.

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Ex-FBI informant charged with lying about Bidens will appear in court as judge weighs his detention