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Impeachment: A Rapid Succession Of Events

Above photo: Hunter Biden, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden during the 2009 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. acaben, Wikimedia Commons.

The indictment of key witness Alexander Smirnov; the under-reported testimony of Jason Galanis from a federal prison; and Hunter Biden’s testimony under oath.

This is the fourth in Consortium News’ series on the congressional investigation into President Biden’s allegedly corrupt involvement in the business affairs of his son Hunter. Earlier reports can be read here,  here and here. 

It has been an eventful few weeks as the House Oversight Committee proceeds with its hearings on the case for impeaching President Joe Biden for his alleged participation in the influence-mongering schemes of his 54–year-old son, Hunter.

At issue is whether Joseph R. Biden, Jr., during his years as vice president and in the interim before he assumed the presidency in January 2021, was corruptly  involved in Hunter’s various ventures and misadventures to his own benefit and/or the benefit of various family members.

The first of a rapid succession of events came Feb. 15, when David Weiss, the special counsel in charge of the Justice Department’s probe into Hunter Biden’s business affairs, announced a grand jury indictment of Alexander Smirnov, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s long-serving informant, who, in 2020, told two F.B.I. agents that Biden père et fils had effectively extorted $5 million each from Mykola Zlochevsky, the founder and chief executive of Burisma Holdings, a once-prominent Ukrainian gas company under investigation for corruption.

Hunter Biden served on the Burisma board from April 2014 to April 2019, taking in, if not earning, roughly $1 million yearly for most of this time.

Weiss’ indictment charges Smirnov with fabricating his reports of the Burisma bribery scheme and lying to the F.B.I.

Smirnov was arrested in Las Vegas when Weiss announced the indictment. On Feb. 20, a federal magistrate released him on bond with a tracking device clamped to his ankle.

Two days later a federal judge in California, contending Smirnov was a flight risk, ordered him rearrested. Smirnov is now in “protective custody” indefinitely at a federal prison in Los Angeles.

Several questions are raised by the indictment and arrest of Smirnov, who has pleaded not guilty.

One concerns Weiss, who has covertly and for years protected Hunter Biden, and by extension the president, from various DoJ and Internal Revenue Service investigations. Among much else, Weiss appears to have worked with other DoJ officials to cover up the F.B.I.’s finding — this via Smirnov’s research — that Zlochevsky allegedly paid the Bidens for protection against the anti-corruption authorities in Kiev.

In addition to the suspicions attaching to Weiss’ past conduct and motivations, there is the question of Smirnov’s identity and his relations with the F.B.I. The bureau had used Smirnov as an informant for roughly a decade and, having concluded several investigations successfully, found him highly reliable.

Why would the F.B.I., a part of the DoJ, suddenly conclude he was unreliable — “a fabulist,” as The New York Times describes him — who, it is now said, got his false stories from Russian intelligence?

Why, in this same line, would the field agents working with Smirnov send his findings on the Bidens and Burisma to Washington, where the bureau entered them into what is called a 1023, a document wherein the F.B.I. formally records the results of its investigations? Does it make sense that it would issue a 1023 to record the reports of an informant they had concluded — suddenly — was a liar?

Russian Intelligence

There is one other feature of Weiss’ indictment that is at this point typical of DoJ documents relating to the Biden case. Indictments typically contain information indicating the propriety of the charges and little else. Weiss’ indictment is freighted with assertions related to Smirnov’s alleged relations with Russian intelligence and his alleged assertions — while in federal custody — that the Russians had informed him in detail of Hunter Biden’s movements in Kiev during his years on Burisma’s board.

This has a recognizable reek to it. Jack Smith, the prosecutor overseeing two of the four legal cases against former President Donald Trump, has similarly decorated his indictments with entirely inappropriate assertions that turn indictments into documents self-evidently motivated by Democratic Party politics.

Democrats in Washington, finally, have pounced on the Smirnov indictment to call for the immediate end to the Oversight Committee’s investigation. Mainstream media have, per usual, amplified Democrats’ assertions that the committee had built its case on evidence so flimsy and fanciful it could not be counted as such. This, too, is suspect. Two reasons.

One, an indictment is not a guilty verdict. The case against Smirnov would have to be heard in court for the charges against him to be proven. It is sheer politics to demand the committee shut down its investigation in consequence of Weiss’ indictment.

Two, it is sheer disinformation, in turn, to suggest that the House Committee’s case rests solely on Smirnov’s allegations of bribery in the Burisma matter. The F.B.I.’s findings are one dimension of the much wider investigation into the Bidens, as events since Smirnov’s arrest plainly demonstrate.

Jason Galanis’ Testimony

One day following Smirnov’s rearrest came another significant development in the House investigation. Jason Galanis, who was for a time among Hunter’s business associates, testified that he was present at a dinner with a Russian oligarch and her husband during which Hunter, putting his cellular telephone on speaker, introduced the two to “Pop,” who was then Barack Obama’s vice-president.

The dinner took place in Brooklyn on May 4, 2014, according to Galanis’ testimony. Those present included Yelena Baturina, a prominent Russian investor; her husband, Yuri Luzhkov, the former mayor of Moscow; and Devon Archer, another of Hunter’s business partners.

For reasons that remain unclear — Archer testified last July that he could not recall — Baturina had recently sent $3.5 million to a firm Hunter Biden and Archer controlled; a few days after the dinner, Galanis testified, he was informed that Baturina had committed — a “hard order” — $10 million to $20 million to an investment vehicle Archer and Biden also controlled.

Separately, Baturina invested $120 million in a real-estate investment company, Rosemont Realty, in which Hunter had an interest for a brief interim — this according to Archer’s testimony last summer.

At one point during the May 2014 dinner the younger Biden gathered the guests in a corner of the restaurant and placed a call to his father. With his cellular line on speaker, he then introduced the two Russians, saying, as Galanis recounted the occasion, “I am here with our friends I told you were coming to town, and we wanted to say hello.”

Biden senior greeted the two visitors and briefly exchanged pleasantries before signing off, “O.K., then, you be good to my boy.”

Galanis testified to House investigators from a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama, where he is serving a 14–year sentence for defrauding a South Dakota Indian tribe of $60 million in a bogus bond deal. Recounting his reactions to the call at the time, he testified to the investigators:

“I recall being stunned by this call — to actually hear the vice-president of the United States speaking on the phone. It was clear to me this was a pre-arranged call with his father meant to impress the Russian investors that Hunter had access to his father and all the power and prestige of his position.”

A couple of observations are due with regard to this remark.

One, reports in The New York Times and other corporate dailies repeatedly stress that V–P Biden’s remarks on these occasions never went further than small talk about the weather and other inconsequential matters — so demonstrating he had no involvement in Hunter’s business dealings.

This is wholly disingenuous, as is much of the media coverage of the allegations against Joe Biden and his family. As Galanis makes plain, small talk was all Hunter needed from his father to signal to clients that he, Hunter, would provide them the access to power they sought.

Two, it is not clear what financial benefit, if any, accrued to Joe Biden from his son’s dealings with the Russians. While evidence that the president received funds from Hunter’s influence-peddling schemes would of course be highly significant, as in the Burisma case, it is not essential to the case for impeachment.

Abuse of office is an impeachable crime if the person under investigation has used the power of his office to the benefit of his family or any other person seeking to leverage his or her influence. This is all the House Oversight Committee must establish to put impeachment to a full House vote.

If we analyze the interpersonal dynamics during the May 2014 dinner, such as we know them by way of Galanis’ account, the occasion suggests itself as a clear case of influence peddling on the part of Biden father and son.

As an aside here, almost no major media have reported Galanis’ testimony from his prison cell. The exception is the New York Post, which obtained a transcript of Galanis’ testimony: this account draws from the New York Post’s report on Galanis’ statements and descriptions.

There is pertinent background to the May 2014 dinner. Miranda Devine reported last month in the New York Post that Hunter hosted it for the daughter of Alex Kotlarsky, who, Devine reported, is thought to have got Hunter Biden and Devon Archer their board seats at Burisma. In Laptop from Hell (Post Hill Press, 2021), Devine’s book on the Bidens, she described Kotlarsky as “a New York–based Eastern European employed by consulting firm TriGlobal Strategic Ventures.”

On Feb. 28, five days after Galanis testified to House investigators, the Oversight Committee questioned Hunter Biden under oath in a closed-door session that lasted more than six hours. This was an occasion the younger Biden obstinately resisted until the House threatened to cite him for contempt of Congress. It is now clear why.

Bravado and Evasion

Hunter Biden’s testimony may stand as one of the most revealing occasions in the committee’s evidence-gathering process. By any disinterested reading of the 229–page transcript the House Committee subsequently released, it is now evident that the Bidens’ various defenses against allegations of corruption and abuse of office — Hunter Biden’s, Joe Biden’s, that of James Biden, the president’s brother — would almost certainly and very swiftly collapse if ever subjected to a formal impeachment trial in the Senate.

On numerous occasions during his interrogation Hunter Biden was aggressively critical of the House investigation to the point of purposeful insult: “This improper process,” he calls it at one point, and on another, “The pattern that I see is that you literally have no evidence whatsoever.”

But as the transcript makes clear, it is difficult to read his performance as other than the bravado of a man who has no case to make on the merits and is left to ineffectual improvisations and posturing.

“I am here today to provide the committee with the one uncontestable fact that should end the false premise of this inquiry,” Biden says early in his testimony. “I did not involve my father in my business, not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions, domestic or international, not as a board member, and not as an artist, never.”

This is typical of the evasive elisions to which Biden resorted on matters of substance. There has been no suggestion that Joe Biden was involved in his son’s investments, transactions and so on.

As Miranda Devine of the New York Post makes clear in Laptop from Hell, the division of labor in the Biden family left Hunter to get his hands dirty running the businesses and generating revenue so Pop was always “clean.”

Joe’s role was to advertise his influence and collect his share of the take.

What a difference an oath makes, we must conclude. Hunter Biden managed not to lie when he asserted his father had nothing to do with his business doings — this while avoiding telling the truth.

‘The Big Guy’

One of the other major topics, bound to come up given its prominence in the evidence the House committee has so far gathered, was the identity of “the Big Guy” as referenced in a key email sent on May 13, 2017. The date is important. Joe Biden had left office the preceding January, and by May, Hunter Biden and his partners were apportioning equity to proceed from CEFC, a large Chinese energy and investment firm.

In the memo, James Gilliar, one of the partners, runs down the equity distribution: Hunter Biden and his three business partners were to get 20 percent shares, making 80 percent. An additional 10 percent was for James Biden. After running down these figures, Gilliar writes, “10 held by H for the big guy.”

Biden again evades when first asked about this. Naming his partners he says, “There’s an executed agreement in which I got 20 percent, Jim got 20 percent, Rob got 20 percent, Tony got 20 percent, and James Gilliar got 20 percent. Nothing [to] do with Joe Biden.”

When a committee member returns to the topic later in the proceeding, Biden claims ignorance:

“I truly don’t know what the hell that James was talking about. All I know is that what actually happened. All I know is that what was executed in the agreement, and the agreement didn’t have anything to do with my father…. I think that it was pie in the sky. Like Joe Biden’s out of the [sic] office. Maybe we’ll be able to get him involved. Remember, again, is that Joe Biden, for first time in 48 years, is not an elected official and is not seeking office. And so James is probably, like, wow, wouldn’t be great if a former vice-president could be in our business together?”

There are three things to consider here. One, in Hunter Biden’s initial response, James Biden’s equity — 10 percent in the Gilliar summary — is now 20 percent, leaving no room for a 10 percent share to Joe Biden. Two, to explain the “10 percent for the Big Guy” as a partner’s trial balloon makes absolutely no sense. If Gilliar wanted to bring the out-of-office Joe Biden into a partnership it stands to reason he simply would have said so.

Three and most important here, there is no documentary evidence that Hunter Biden objected or otherwise questioned the 10 percent allocation Gilliar noted in the May 2017 email. When pressed repeatedly, Biden says, “I’m not even sure whether I ever fully read this,” in reference to the Gilliar note.

And at no point, finally and far from least, did Hunter Biden deny that his father was “the Big Guy.” At the conclusion of Biden’s testimony, the identity of the Big Guy is left as a complete mystery.

Hunter Biden’s testimony is full of such anomalies and hard-to-believe assertions. He relied heavily on his dissolute years of drunkenness and drug use as he failed to recall, roughly two dozen times, key events, letters he wrote, documents he signed, and meetings he attended. There is the much-noted text he sent via WhatsApp to a Chinese investor in 2017 saying, “I am sitting here with my father and we would like to know why the commitment has not been fulfilled.”

Asked about this during his interrogation Biden replied that he did not remember sending the message and if he had he was either drunk or high. “I take full responsibility for being an absolute ass and idiot when I sent this message, if I did send this message,” he told the committee. The Chinese investor wired $5 million to one of Biden’s partnerships a few days later.

It is possible, of course, that Hunter Biden did fake Joe Biden’s presence when he wrote the WhatsApp message to the Chinese executive. Bluffs of this kind are common enough in business. But even if this were so, Hunter Biden invoked precisely the kind of father-son partnership Devine described in Laptop from Hell and that the House Committee alleges was at the heart of their influence-selling schemes.

Asked about funds from business ventures disbursed directly to family members without going through his account, Biden replied, “I sometimes can be, oxymoronically, cheap. It’s to save on two wire transfers.”

As these examples suggest, the impression the transcript leaves is of a man glossing events and business dealings or otherwise papering over them, more than occasionally filibustering the committee’s interrogators, in a fashion unlikely to withstand a formal trial were his father to be impeached and he called as a witness.

The events of the past several weeks suggest some conclusions as to the direction of the House Committee’s case.

First and most significantly, President Biden and his allies in the Democratic Party and the DoJ will continue to instrumentalize the Justice Department for their shared political ends. This amounts to the wanton corruption of the nation’s judicial system — an act of institutional destruction from which America may not recover.

As of Hunter Biden’s deposition in the House late last month, the flimsiness of his case is now perfectly clear. The blanket denials — in policy circles, in the media — of the validity of the House Committee’s investigations allegations are threadbare. As the Times reported in a moment of candor months ago, the White House’s strategy is to fight the investigation in “the court of public opinion,” not in House hearing rooms. It is, in other words, to make a media circus of it.

The House will have enough to bring a vote to impeach to the floor. This is all but certain. Whether it will do so, and the outcome of such a vote if there is one, are among the outstanding questions now.

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