A now-indicted FBI informant was at the 'heart' of the GOP's case against Joe Biden

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WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans put a defiant face on Friday after the revelation that an FBI informant — the man whose allegations were at the "heart" of their case against President Joe Biden, as one leading House Republican recently said — had been indicted for lying to the bureau about the president and his son Hunter Biden for political purposes.

Alexander Smirnov, a 43-year-old FBI informant who began working with the bureau in 2010, faces two felony counts: one for making a false statement to a government agent and another for falsification of records in a federal investigation. Republicans in Congress had repeatedly touted those same false statements as a key piece of their impeachment inquiry into the president.

Smirnov, who has no lawyer listed on his court dockets, was arrested Thursday at the Las Vegas airport after disembarking from an international flight. The case against him will eventually proceed in a federal courthouse in California, but the initial proceedings will take place before federal Magistrate Judge Daniel J. Albregts in Nevada.

Congressional Republicans were quick to downplay the impact that the indictment would have on their ongoing impeachment inquiry, even though numerous leading Republicans had repeatedly pointed to bribery allegations against the Bidens that originated from Smirnov as a major linchpin of their investigation.

House Republicans even threatened to hold the director of the FBI in contempt last year to force the bureau to show them the underlying documents, which were eventually released, sparking breathless headlines in conservative media outlets about the false allegations that Biden and his son Hunter were paid $5 million in bribes.

Just weeks ago, one of the leaders of the impeachment inquiry even pointed to Smirnov's alleged lies to the FBI as their strongest evidence.

“That to me is really the heart of this matter,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio — a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump and one of the architects of the impeachment push — said in a Jan. 11 appearance on Fox News, referring to the FBI FD-1023 confidential human source form containing false allegations from the now-indicted former FBI informant. "The most corroborating evidence we have is the 1023 form from this highly credible confidential human source."

Now, after the source of those allegations has been federally charged, House Republicans say that it wasn't the "heart" of their inquiry after all.

In a statement, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., claimed that the impeachment case "is not reliant on the FBI’s FD-1023," which a federal prosecutor appointed by Trump, David Weiss, now says was filled with lies.

The impeachment case “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,” Comer claimed, though the committee has yet to show firm evidence that the president was involved in his son’s business dealings.

The saga all began last May, when Comer and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, publicly declared that a "whistleblower" had come forward to allege that the FBI possessed an FD-1023 form documenting "an alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions.”

Chuck Grassley (Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Chuck Grassley (Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

In May, the FBI rejected Comer's requests to see the document, saying that policy "strictly limits when and how confidential human source information can be provided outside of the FBI."

The FBI cautioned at the time that reports like the one at issue simply document information given to the bureau and did "not validate it, establish its credibility, or weigh it against other information verified by the FBI,” warning that such unsubstantiated information could "unfairly violate privacy or reputations."

Then, in early June, the FBI said it would allow Comer and the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, to review a redacted version of the FBI form and briefed them on it. After that briefing, Comer threatened to start contempt proceedings against FBI Director Chris Wray because he hadn't turned the form over to the whole committee. The bureau caved and allowed all members of the Oversight Committee to view the document, and Republicans dropped the contempt proceedings. GOP members of the committee made unsubstantiated claims about the form, saying it proved that Biden had committed a crime. Grassley ended up releasing the document itself.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., said after viewing the FBI document that Biden was “100% guilty” of bribery.

New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a member of House GOP leadership, in a "Fox & Friends" segment in June that centered on a clip of Biden calling a question about the FBI file “dumb," spoke in sweeping terms about the allegations.

“This is the biggest political corruption scandal, not only in my lifetime, but I would say the past 100 years,” she said, adding she would make sure House Republicans followed “the facts.”

In September, Stefanik also pointed directly to the false allegations from a "highly credible FBI source" as a reason to open an inquiry into Biden.

On Fox News, Sean Hannity dedicated at least 85 segments to the claim, according to research from Media Matters. But as the media reporter Brian Stelter noted, the indictment of the informant wasn’t mentioned at all during Fox’s prime-time shows Thursday after the case against Smirnov was unsealed, though the network posted a story online.

While Republicans hailed the bribery allegations contained in the FBI form as a key piece of evidence in their inquiry, their investigation into Hunter Biden and the president has sprawled into several different areas: Hunter Biden’s business dealings with foreign governments and whether his father was involved, allegations by two IRS whistleblowers that there was interference into their investigation of Hunter Biden’s taxes, and a widely debunked theory that then-Vice President Biden had called for the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor to end his investigation into Burisma, a company that Hunter Biden worked for.

In a December briefing for reporters about the scope of the impeachment inquiry, Jordan specifically discussed the FD-1023 form as evidence that the Bidens may have been bribed and said it might be one example of a high crime or misdemeanor if Republicans were to bring articles of impeachment.

“Was it obstruction when Joe Biden said all the things he has said that turned out not to be accurate when we got the facts about him not knowing anything about his family’s business deals, his son’s business deals — was that obstruction?” Jordan said.

A spokesman for Grassley, who released the FBI document containing what are now charged to be false allegations, said Friday that the indictment against Smirnov “isn’t enough” and that “the public has a right to see all the underlying evidence supporting the Biden Justice Department’s case. The Biden administration must show its work.”

Jordan's House Judiciary Committee responded to the news of the indictment by posting a transcript of former U.S. Attorney Scott Brady's interview with the committee.

Brady, who was found by a Justice Department watchdog to have displayed “unbecoming” behavior during a disagreement over the Justice Department’s approach to election cases, refused to say during his interview whether he believed the Joe Biden was the legitimate president of the United States.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com