What is the cost for Republicans of their key FBI informant having Russian ties?

<span>Dan Goldman speaks in Washington DC on 14 February 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Bryan Olin Dozier/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Dan Goldman speaks in Washington DC on 14 February 2024.Photograph: Bryan Olin Dozier/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

Republican “ineptitude” in attempts to impeach Joe Biden left the party embarrassed when a key source was revealed this week not only to have lied to the FBI but to have links to Russian intelligence, a leading House Democrat has said.

“It demonstrates chairman Comer and chairman Jordan’s ineptitude in dealing with an investigation that is really designed as a political ploy to help Donald Trump,” said Dan Goldman of New York.

Related: Russia-linked Biden accuser charged with lying? Who cares, Republicans say

Goldman is a member of the House oversight committee, a panel chaired by James Comer of Kentucky, who has led the impeachment attempt alongside Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Republican judiciary chair.

“They were willing to use anything they could get their hands on to make incredibly bold accusations that now result with them having egg on their face,” Goldman added.

Last week, Alexander Smirnov, an FBI informant behind claims of corruption involving Joe Biden, was arrested on charges of lying about alleged links between the president, his son Hunter Biden, and Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

That was bad enough for Comer and Jordan, but then prosecutors dropped a bombshell: allegations that Smirnov had ties to officials linked to Russian intelligence.

That news broke before closed-door testimony in which James Biden, a brother of the president, forcefully rejected claims of corruption. Democrats called for an end to the impeachment attempt, but Comer and Jordan vowed to press on, brushing off revelations about Smirnov and saying they retained faith in his claims. Hunter Biden is due to be interviewed next week.

Speaking to reporters hosted by the Congressional Integrity Project, a liberal watchdog, Goldman considered how Republicans came to rely on Smirnov.

Goldman said: “The only way this became public is because of the pressure that Senator [Chuck] Grassley [of Iowa] and Chairman Comer put on the FBI to make them turn over this 1023”, referring to a form summarising Smirnov’s unverified claims.

Last May, Grassley and Comer published a letter to Christopher Wray, the FBI director, in which they said a whistleblower had alerted them to the Smirnov form. Claiming “significant public interest in assessing the FBI’s response to this information”, the Republicans cited “growing concern about … political bias”.

The FBI, Goldman said, released the form “with an understanding it would remain confidential because they were concerned about burning sources and methods. The Republicans did not respect that request.”

In July, Grassley and Comer released the form, with some redactions. The information within, about Joe Biden supposedly working to his son’s benefit in Ukraine, fueled months of speculation by Republicans and rightwing media, particularly Fox News.

Goldman said: “They went ahead and pushed forward with these unverified allegations, that they knew were unverified, as much as they could and relied very heavily on them to justify their vote to move into a formal impeachment process.”

In an unpolitical world, developments this week might have dictated an end to that process. On Wednesday, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, called for that to happen. But his choice of words – Republicans, he said, should “fold up the tent to this circus show” – was telling.

Jordan and Comer indicated no plans to stop their attempted impeachment, an effort based on feeding supporters and media allies and appeasing Trump, the probable presidential nominee.

Goldman entered Congress last year. Before that, he was lead counsel to House Democrats in Trump’s first impeachment, concerning attempts to blackmail Ukraine for dirt on rivals including Joe Biden.

Speaking to reporters, Goldman called for an official investigation into Republican handling of the Smirnov allegations, also citing Russian efforts in support of Trump since 2016.

“The House Republicans are simply doing the bidding of Donald Trump and [Russian president] Vladimir Putin by peddling what they knew already to be false allegations,” Goldman said. “I do think there should be more inquiry into not only what Chairman Comer and Chairman Jordan knew about any Russian involvement in pushing … these allegations but [into] Senator Grassley as well.”

The 90-year-old Iowa senator, Goldman said, “was leading an investigation in 2020” – when Smirnov made his allegations – “and was receiving information from Andrii Derkach, who has been sanctioned as a Russian agent”.

Sanctions against Derkach, a Ukrainian oligarch and lawmaker, were announced in December 2022. Speaking then, Breon Peace, the US attorney for the eastern district of New York, called Derkach a “Kremlin asset … sanctioned for trying to poison our democracy” with misinformation, in an attempt to influence the 2020 election.

Grassley denies wrongdoing but was reportedly among Republicans who received “packets” about Joe Biden from Derkach.

The Iowa senator has not commented on developments in the Smirnov case linking the informant to Russian intelligence. Last week, after Smirnov was charged with lying to investigators, staff for the senator told BleedingHeartland.com, an Iowa blog, the indictment “confirms several points Senator Grassley has made repeatedly”.

The Smirnov affair is nothing if not complex. Goldman also said revelations about Russian intelligence links could affect court cases involving Hunter Biden, whose troubled personal life and legal jeopardy has dogged his father politically.

“I don’t know exactly what led to the plea agreement falling apart last summer,” Goldman said, of dramatic developments in a Delaware courtroom in July, when a deal on tax and gun charges collapsed, leading to Hunter Biden choosing to plead not guilty instead.

“But part of it was certainly allegations that the special counsel” – David Weiss, the Trump appointee who charged Smirnov – “was continuing to investigate [alleged Foreign Agents Registration Act] violations [by Hunter Biden]. That had been a part of the investigation for five years, and you don’t enter into a plea agreement that wraps up a long-running investigation only as to certain parts of it and not as to others, in the ordinary course.

“The fact that they re-interviewed [Smirnov] in September 2023, after the plea agreement fell apart, is at least some circumstantial evidence that this investigation may have been what the special counsel’s office said was the Fara investigation related to Hunter Biden. And if that is the case, then I do think that [revelations about Smirnov] could have an impact on” Hunter Biden’s legal cases.

This week, Hunter Biden’s lawyers accused Weiss of using Smirnov’s now discredited allegations to blow up the plea deal last year.