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‘There's No Question This Is Dead’: Biden Impeachment Inquiry Falls Apart

House Republicans reached a critical point this week in their bid to impeach Joe Biden: a closed-door interview with the President’s younger brother James. But the coveted testimony was dramatically overshadowed by another development: The Justice Department indicting one of the impeachment inquiry’s lead informants for lying to the FBI about the Biden family with dirt from Russian intelligence.

The revelation was the latest in a series of embarrassing setbacks for the House GOP’s impeachment effort. In July, one of its whistleblowers was arrested for acting as a Chinese agent. In August, Hunter Biden’s longtime associate Devon Archer—who House Oversight Chair James Comer said could become a “hero” of the probe—testified that President Biden had no involvement in his son’s business dealings. At the inquiry’s first public hearing in September, Comer’s star witness, conservative lawyer Jonathan Turley, said there wasn’t enough evidence to impeach Biden. And on Tuesday, federal prosecutors claimed that FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, who made false bribery allegations against President Biden and his son Hunter, had “extensive and extremely recent contacts” with the Kremlin.

Democrats and Republicans alike saw it as the clearest sign yet that the GOP hope of impeaching Biden was slipping from its grasp.  “My sense is it’s not going to happen,” says Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican. “We should determine the next president through the election.”

Others are less diplomatic. “There's no question this is dead,” says Rep. Dan Goldman, a New York Democrat. “To the extent that they continue to push forward with it, they are now doing it with a knowing asset of Russian intelligence. It is one thing to lead an investigation where you fail to find evidence to support unfounded conclusions. It is altogether something else when you are acting as an agent of Vladimir Putin.”

Since taking a slim House majority in January 2023, the GOP has made impeaching Biden its foremost priority on Capitol Hill. The investigation has largely focused on Hunter and James Biden’s business dealings, with Republicans aiming to build a case against the President on corruption charges or attempting to obstruct the inquiry. As former President Donald Trump faced mounting legal peril, GOP lawmakers intensified the effort, hoping impeachment would force Biden to stand trial in the Senate just as Trump was mired in courtrooms throughout the country.

But what some Republicans thought could serve as a political advantage going into the 2024 election has become more of a liability, as GOP investigators lose the confidence of even sympathetic audiences. “Honestly, I’m surprised that they have this high a threshold for humiliation,” mocked a Fox News host on Wednesday.

The House impeachment inquiry has centered on Hunter Biden’s squalid past, with a heavy emphasis on his banking records. Republicans claim they’ve uncovered more than 170 times that banks have filed suspicious activity reports against the President’s son; roughly 20 subsidiary companies he created to hide earnings from overseas business interests; and other attempts to trade on his family name. Archer claims that when Biden was vice president, Hunter would call up his father and put him on speaker phone when they were meeting with business partners, but that they never discussed anything more than pleasantries. When James Biden testified Wednesday, he told GOP investigators that his brother was not involved in his business deals.

Smirnov’s allegations have been a central component of the investigation. They stem from a 2020 report released by GOP Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson alleging Biden family corruption, based on an unsubstantiated claim from a confidential FBI source. The source, later revealed to be Smirnov, falsely reported to the FBI that executives associated with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid Joe and Hunter Biden $5 million each when the elder Biden was vice president, according to the indictment. The filing also says that Smirnov told prosecutors that “officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story” about Hunter Biden.

Some Republicans have downplayed the Smirnov charges, and the extent to which they have relied on his claims. “We've been focused on bank records and witness testimony,” says a House impeachment inquiry aide. “I'm not considering the informant a witness. That is not our witness. That is the FBI’s informant. We never even knew who this person was. We could never interview this person, because the FBI wouldn't provide their identity.”

Main Street conservatives say House investigators have failed to make the case for an impeachment resolution. "It's not yet there,” says Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican. “It's just further evidence that it's not ready for that to be brought to the floor yet.”

Even two or three dissenting House Republicans may be enough to block Biden’s impeachment. Last week, the House impeached Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the administration’s border policies, only the second impeachment of a cabinet member in U.S. history. But that came about a week after a vote to impeach Mayorkas failed because of a GOP absence.

Republican leaders insist the Biden inquiry is still very much alive, even with potential evidence that the Kremlin is advancing the effort to influence the 2024 election. That’s come with other implications for the federal government. Next week, Congress will return from a two-week recess and have only three working days to pass a budget and avert a partial government shutdown. But House members will still be preoccupied with the Biden probe. On Wednesday, the impeachment inquiry staff is set to interview its most titillating target: Hunter Biden.

Contact us at letters@time.com.