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Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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Right-wing media relentlessly pushed anti-Biden conspiracy theories tied to indicted FBI informant

Trump apologists Rudy Giuliani, John Solomon, and Sean Hannity pumped discredited allegations about the Biden family into the right-wing echo chamber

Right-wing media eagerly spread the claims of a man who has now been arrested and indicted for lying to the FBI, promoting them in their rush to build a narrative of Biden family corruption.

Alexander Smirnov, a longtime FBI informant who now claims to have connections to Russian intelligence, allegedly falsely told the FBI that Hunter Biden and President Joe Biden were given multimillion-dollar bribes by Ukrainian energy company Burisma. This claim formed a basis for a yearslong criminal investigation into Hunter Biden and has been repeatedly cited by Republicans and their right-wing media allies to justify opening a baseless impeachment investigation into President Biden. After his arrest, Smirnov reportedly told investigators that Russian intelligence operatives had passed him information about Hunter Biden and that they planned to influence the 2024 elections.

Smirnov’s arrest comes after right-wing media spent months painting the now-indicted informant as a reliable source. Such commentary came from John Solomon, Sean Hannity, and Rudy Giuliani, who have all been central to spreading bribery conspiracy theories about Joe and Hunter Biden.

  • FBI report central to anti-Biden crusade came from a man now arrested for lying to the FBI

    • The informant at the heart of Biden bribery claims was indicted by the FBI on felony false statement and obstruction charges. Alexander Smirnov was previously a confidential FBI informant whose unverified claims have been used to push for an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. [ABC News, 2/15/24]
    • Smirnov alleged that Burisma executives paid Hunter Biden and Joe Biden $5 million each for legal protection. Smirnov’s story had changed over time to make the bribery scheme more involved, and the FBI ultimately did not believe Smirnov’s claims. [CNN, 2/22/24]
    • Following his arrest, Smirnov told investigators that Russian intelligence officers fed him information about Hunter Biden. He alleged that his Russian contacts intended to use blackmail to impact the 2024 election, “depending on who the candidates will be.” [CNN, 2/20/24]
  • Right-wing media — notably John Solomon, Sean Hannity, and Rudy Giuliani — repeatedly gave credence to Smirnov’s claims and presented them as fact

    • Right-wing media repeatedly called Smirnov a credible source. Fox News hosts and guests repeatedly presented Smirnov’s unconfirmed claims as fact and pushed for investigations into the Biden family. The unverified Smirnov allegations fit perfectly into Fox's yearslong effort to smear President Biden and his family with allegations of corruption. [Media Matters, 2/16/24]
    • In an article published to Just the News, Solomon seemed to describe the FBI informant as “a trusted source.” The article proceeded to describe Smirnov’s comments as “bombshells” and presented them as fact. [Just the News, 7/20/23]
    • Solomon repeatedly presented the FBI informant as credible during an interview of Rep. James Comer (R-KY) and in articles on his website. Solomon said during the interview, “The allegations were first brought by this informant in ‘17 and then again in 2020, so there’s a consistency over multiple years.” In an article published the same day on Just the News, Solomon described the informant as “a reliable and well-paid informant,” and claimed that he “was deemed so credible and valuable that he was paid $200,000 by the bureau over several years.” In yet another article, Solomon described the source as “a validated and well-paid informant.” [Just the News, 6/6/23, 6/6/23, 6/6/23]
    • Solomon promoted Smirnov’s accusations on Hannity’s radio show and again built up Smirnov’s credibility by calling him a “trusted informant.” Asked about his “bribery scandal allegation” against Joe Biden, Solomon told Hannity, “Well, it also matches what the FBI received from its trusted informant in a 1023 informant report in June of 2020.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 9/6/23
    • On his radio show, Hannity demanded Attorney General Merrick Garland answer for the FD-1023 form and called Smirnov “the informant that the FBI happened to trust a lot.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 9/19/23]
    • Hannity ranted about mainstream media not picking up claims from the informant, describing Smirnov’s claims as “evidence.” Hannity said: “None of this is evidence in the minds of the liberal media. FBI received evidence from a second informant in the Biden case, but shut him down according to a former agent.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 9/18/23]
    • Hannity vouched for Smirnov’s credibility by highlighting that he was regularly paid for information. Hannity told his audience: “By the way, I've gotten a tip from a little birdie, you know, when the 1023 form — by the way, that is a trusted FBI informant. How do we define trusted? Well, the guy that the FBI paid repeatedly for big sums of money.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 9/13/23]
    • Hannity promoted Smirnov’s claims, calling him “very trusted.” He stated that “this FBI informant …obviously was very trusted, having been paid a lot of money in the past by the FBI.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 7/20/23]
    • Hannity hosted Solomon to promote the Smirnov accusations’ credibility. “When you first brought this to me, I was skeptical,” Hannity stated. He explained, “And then you had convinced me enough and there was enough evidence out there, Joe Biden, ‘You're not getting the — you're not getting the billion dollars unless you fire a prosecutor.’ By the way, isn't that odd that a vice president is interested in firing a prosecutor in Ukraine and withholding a billion taxpayer dollars to get it done and demanding it be done in six hours, and son of a B, he brags they did it.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 7/20/23]
    • Hannity called Smirnov’s claims “serious allegations,” and said he was a “credible” source. Hannity’s evidence that Smirnov was a trusted source was based on “the hundreds of thousands of dollars they paid this FBI informant.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 6/14/23]
    • On his radio show, Giuliani described Smirnov as a “reliable informant.” Giuliani claimed this was one of multiple bribes paid to Joe Biden, saying, “[Burisma owner Mykola] Zlochevsky is a singular bribery case. The FBI reliable informant described it: $5 million offered to Joe, $5 million offered to Hunter.” [WABC, The Rudy Giuliani Show, 12/19/23]
    • Giuliani appeared to recently refer to Smirnov’s claims as fact just one day before the informant’s arrest, citing a “10 million” bribe from Ukraine. Giuliani added: “That’s what you can generally prosecute cases on, testimony like that.” [WABC, The Rudy Giuliani Show, 2/14/24]
  • Solomon and Giuliani have a history of pushing pro-Trump and anti-Biden conspiracy theories

    • Sean Hannity repeatedly used his show to platform conspiracy theories and unconfirmed claims to build a case against Hunter and Joe Biden. House impeachment chairs James Comer (R-KY), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Jason Smith (R-MO) made a combined 86 appearances on Hannity to talk about Hunter Biden in 2023. [Media Matters, 2/13/24]
    • While working at The Hill Solomon played a key role in laundering Rudy Giuliani’s conspiracy theories on the Bidens and Ukraine. Solomon published 45 columns in The Hill aimed at discrediting investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In the first Trump impeachment inquiry, which revolved around then-President Donald Trump’s effort to extort Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for Zelensky fabricating damaging information about Joe Biden, multiple witnesses testified that Solomon’s reporting on the subject — much of which was sourced to disgraced Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani — was inaccurate. Solomon's central role in peddling anti-Biden conspiracy theories earned him the dishonor of being named Media Matters' 2019 Misinformer of the Year. [Media Matters, 12/26/19]
    • Giuliani has repeatedly pushed false accusations about alleged ties between Joe Biden and Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Giuliani’s discredited theories were dismissed by fact-checkers but have been platformed and spread by Fox News. [Media Matters, 12/31/20]