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Ex-FBI informant charged with lying about Bidens to remain jailed

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  • BIZUAYEHU TESFAYE/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                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, must remain behind bars while he awaits trial, a judge ruled today, reversing an earlier order releasing the man.

    BIZUAYEHU TESFAYE/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

    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, must remain behind bars while he awaits trial, a judge ruled today, reversing an earlier order releasing the man.

LOS ANGELES >> A former FBI informant charged with fabricating a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving President Joe Biden’s family must remain behind bars while he awaits trial, a judge ruled today, reversing an earlier order releasing the man.

U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II in Los Angeles ordered Alexander Smirnov’s detention days after he was freed by another judge, then re-arrested while meeting with his lawyers at their offices in Las Vegas. Wright said he did not believe there were release conditions he could set that would guarantee that the man who has claimed to have ties to Russian intelligence would not flee the country.

“There is nothing garden variety about this case,” Wright said. “I have not changed my mind. This man will be remanded pending trial.”

Smirnov, 43, pleaded not guilty to the charges accusing him of 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.

A different judge had released him from jail on electronic GPS monitoring after his Feb. 14 arrest, but Wright ordered him to be taken back into custody last week after prosecutors asked to reconsider Smirnov’s detention. Wright said in a written order unsealed Friday that Smirnov’s lawyers’ efforts to free him were “likely to facilitate his absconding from the United States.”

In urging the judge to keep him in jail, prosecutors revealed Smirnov has reported to the FBI having extensive contact with officials associated with Russian intelligence, and claimed that such officials were involved in passing a story to him about Hunter Biden. Prosecutors said Smirnov had been planning to travel to multiple countries days after his Feb. 14 arrest to meet with foreign intelligence contacts.

Prosecutor Leo Wise told the judge today that Smirnov could not be trusted to tell the truth to those monitoring his whereabouts if released from jail, noting that he was pushing a new false story about Hunter Biden during a meeting with investigators as recently as September. Prosecutors have accused Smirnov in court papers of “actively peddling new lies that could impact U.S. elections.”

Wise said the reason Smirnov was re-arrested at his lawyers’ offices in Las Vegas was that he had nine firearms at his home.

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 was escorted into the courtroom today wearing an off-white jail jumpsuit and black-rimmed eyeglasses and was seated at the table with his lawyers. Defense attorney David Chesnoff told reporters outside the courthouse after the hearing that he plans to go to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to continue to push for his release.

Defense attorneys said Smirnov has no criminal history and has strong ties to the United States, including a longtime significant other who lives in Las Vegas. Chesnoff told the judge that Smirnov was being held largely in isolation with access to a phone only once or twice a week, and that he was needed to assist in his own defense.

“He intends to vigorously defend these allegations, having never been in trouble his entire life,” Chesnoff said.

In his ruling last week releasing Smirnov on GPS monitoring, U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel Albregts in Las Vegas said he was concerned about the defendant’s 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 trial.

In an emergency petition with the 9th Circuit appeals court, Smirnov’s lawyers said Wright did not have the authority to order Smirnov to be taken back into custody. 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.

The appeals court on Sunday evening denied Smirnov’s emergency petition, refusing to block today’s hearing or assign the case to a different judge.

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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