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DOJ Filing: Indicted FBI Informant Told FBI He Got Dirt On Hunter Biden From Russian Intelligence; House GOP Blames FBI After Trying Impeachment To Informant's Lies; House GOP Struggles To Find Evidence In Biden Impeachment Inquiry; Today: House Investigators Interviewing Biden's Brother James; Trump Says Navalny Death "Sad" But Won't Condemn Putin; Trump On His Civil Fraud Verdict: "It's A Form Of Navalny"; Biden Criticizes Trump, GOP For Not Condemning Putin. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, from Russia with malice. The Justice Department pulls back the curtain on a Russian operation to peddle false information about the Bidens and the informant they used to do it.

Plus, one of these things is not like the other. Alexei Navalny paid with his life for an adoring political protest against a dictator. Now Donald Trump is using Navalny's name and story not to shame Putin, but to shine his own reputation. And all power no checks. Want to be future Trump officials build a playbook for what a second Trump term would look like. And we've got some of the eyepopping details.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

Up first, the informant. The impeachment inquiry built on his alleged lies and the influence operation that has swindled Republicans and perhaps the FBI. Last night, federal prosecutors added 28 pages of intrigue to an already damning indictment.

In it, Justice Department officials say not only is FBI informant Alexander Smirnov a liar, but that his lies including those about Hunter Biden came straight from Russian intelligence. The latest court filing again says Smirnov twisted quote, routine an unextraordinary events into a spy novel with Joe Biden on the hook for bribes. The Fed say it wasn't true. And that they identified the source of those lies, Moscow.

Russia or Russians are mentioned 170 times including alleged high ranking intelligence officials who met frequently with the informant quote, Smirnov admitted that officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story on the Biden's. But if you think these facts would change anything about the Republican plan to impeach the president, you would be wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MANU RAJU, CNN, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you take back what you said about the president's involvement in a bribery scheme now that Alexander Smirnov is proven to have made it up and it was based on Russian intelligence?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): It doesn't change the four fundamental facts.

RAJU: You said the 1023 is the most corroborating piece of information you have?

JORDAN: It corroborates, but it doesn't -- it doesn't change those fundamental facts. So now ---

RAJU: It's not true.

JORDAN: Well, so -- OK, so it's the FBI told us that this source was so -- 14 years this source was a paid source by the FBI. When we were trying to get the 1023, they told us, oh, this could jeopardize national security, this aid to this source didn't want to release it. And now they're saying, oh, he gave false information.


BASH: The facts are the same, really. Ronald Reagan said it quite a lot. Trust but verify and it's clear. In this moment, Republicans trusted the word of this informants, so much so to repeat it over and over so much that they based preliminary impeachment investigation into the president of the United States on it. They trusted, they did not verify or on the politics about all of this in a moment.

But let's start with the facts as we know them. CNN's John Miller is here. John, run us through who this informant is? Why the FBI believed him, and should they have believed him?

JOHN MILLER, CNN, CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: So, Alexander Smirnov is a longtime CHS, confidential human source. That is a nugget of gold in the world of the FBI, where you're able to recruit a human source, who walks and talks within the circles that you can make cases in.

And Smirnov made cases. According to FBI sources, he made significant cases that resulted in indictments in the public corruption area in convictions and criminal trials and provided information from time to time on national security issues and international affairs. So, he would have been a prized informant.

The question really is not -- how could the FBI work with a guy who was lying to them for 10 years? The question is, after all of those cases and convictions that stood the test of scrutiny, did he become a double agent for Russian intelligence? And if so, when? And was all this Biden $5 million bribe, Hunter Biden scandal stuff, part of a Russian manipulation? Was he witting or unwitting? All those questions still unanswered.

[12:05:00] BASH: Such an important point that he is believed to be a longtime FBI informant and that he has helped with cases as you say that did stand the test of time. So, the question is what has happened in the past several years?

MILLER: So, that is the question. And I mean, dramatic developments, you know, in court this week. As you know, he was brought to arraignment in Las Vegas where he was arrested coming off in international flight. And the government takes the position and I'm quoting from their bail application now. No condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of defendant Alexander Smirnov as required.

They're saying, he's got eight million ways and a lot of help to flee the country. And yet, David Chesnoff, his lawyer from Chesnoff & Schonfeld made an argument to the court that this was a trusted asset of the U.S. government for a decade, and he needs to be trusted more.

And plus, this is a morass. We're going to need him free to assist in his defense. So, a lot of the answers to these questions, at least his versions of that should be coming through him, his attorneys and the documents in this case as it goes forward.

BASH: So, John, we're going to get to the politics of all this here in a second. But just on the facts, what do you make of the fact that Republicans, even though they're saying that there is other information that we have not yet seen and that he was a "corroborating witness." What do you make of Republicans relying so much of what they thought that they were building on this man?

MILLER: Well, the Republicans fought hard, and I mean, hard to get this 1023 where this unvetted allegation was made. Since then, it's been investigated by a Republican, former United States attorney, now special prosecutor who said, it was all nonsense and that's provable. And now a prosecution has started.

So, I think if you take -- you know, what Jim Jordan said to Manu in that incredible argument is, they have the facts. The facts have changed, and they want their original facts back. That's not how it works.

BASH: Very well said. John Miller, thank you so much. Really important analysis and information. Thank you. Here to help us understand more about what all of this means is former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, CNN political director David Chalian, and CNN's Paula Reid, our Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent.

Elliot, pick up where John left off. I mean, you have been in the federal prosecutor business before and I'm sure I don't know how much you've dealt with informants. But just talk about how this kind of thing happens.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN, LEGAL ANALYST: It can happen where a witness comes forward, certain about evidence that frankly, law enforcement wants to believe. Now, the question is, what did the FBI have to substantiate or corroborate things that he had said? And I think that will come out in time. Certainly, the House of Representatives is all over it and seems to think this is now an FBI problem as much as it's a witness problem.

I mean, again, and we'll talk about this in a moment. So many people relied on this testimony, including up on Capitol Hill, laying the groundwork for an impeachment that seems like it's sort of crumbling as their evidence falls apart.

BASH: I mean, haven't we, as a society, we in sort of the political realm, maybe learned from uncorroborated FBI informants or uncorroborated tales spun by FBI informants? That's A, Paula. And B, what about -- what John just said that -- what are you hearing from your sources about the possibility that this guy was legit and then he was turned?

PAULA REID, CNN, CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: We don't know. Because last night, and this really stunning filing from the Justice Department, they were advocating for why he should remain detained. They said, look, there's no circumstances under which he can be out. Why?

Because they said, look, this guy got a history of lies. He lies about everything, including how much money he has, for example, he said he had a few thousand dollars in access to $6 million. And then he had this enormous network of people all around the world, including in Russia.

But when it comes to whether they know for a fact that he did talk to Russian assets. If they did give him information about Hunter Biden, it says in the filing, they were not able to actually verify that. So, that's to an outstanding question whether he could even be lying about his alleged lies.


BASH: OK, that is very meta.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And yet, you just heard Jim Jordan say by the way -- that well, he was corroborating information.

BASH: What information?

CHALIAN: Right. I don't understand. If you're a liar, who tells lies about lying and it's now exposed that this was all lie. How are you corroborating?

BASH: Well, OK, so that's a totally legit question. But let's just go back, I don't know, like a day or two before or maybe last week or two before this guy was, you know, it was exposed because he was arrested that they don't believe that he was telling the truth. What Republican after Republican conservative media, commentator after commentator said about this very man.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA) FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Even a trusted FBI informant has alleged a bribe to the Biden family.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): We already know that president took bribes from Burisma.

REP. JAMES COMER, (R-KY): They got these credible documents, this 1023 form. That said Joe Biden had been involved in a bribery scheme.

The FBI had an unclassified record that details an extortion and bribery scheme involving then Vice President Biden.

We haven't gotten anything from the FBI and DOJ. Now remember, this 1023 that was released by Grassley last week. Now we know about this form 1023 that alleges bribery.

JORDAN: The most corroborating evidence we have is that 1023 form from this highly credible confidential human source.


BASH: Now for normal humans out there who aren't like really familiar with the code and 1023. That was the information about -- from the environment.

WILLIAMS: Right. It's a memorialized document by the FBI. Now, here's the thing. And what everybody should know is that the standard for impeachment, it's in the constitution. It's one can be impeached for treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors.

Now, the constitution is pretty silent on the amount of evidence you need. How you go about it and what it takes to impeach somebody. The simple fact is -- and they've made point, they backed away from those statements in the last day or so saying, well, this is all based on more than one person's testimony.

Well, fine, with the evidence to show it. Whether it's other witnesses that can corroborate? What this individual had said? Whether it's bank statements, financial records? They simply don't seem to have created a public record that indicates that any of it exists. And at a certain point, the law doesn't care about your feelings, the law requires you to come forward with evidence which they simply have not done.

CHALIAN: In fact, the opposite is true, right. We do have witness testimony throughout this process that actually undercuts the argument. Even people who witnesses -- correct me if I'm wrong, Paula, that who are opposed to Joe Biden and no fan of Joe Biden have gone in and offered testimony that suggests there's no -- there have a direct connection of Joe Biden benefiting from any of these business deals.

BASH: And now what you're seeing is these Republicans who -- as you just heard, really relied on this FBI informant upset the FBI. And they're trying to say, well, we need to find out why the FBI got sort of hoodwinked on this. They're asking things like why the informant who officials claimed was highly credible. Why did they use them since 2010? Why did they pay the informant six figures? Why did the DOJ sit on serious allegations from the informant? Whom the FBI deemed highly credible for years? The American people deserve answers. Those are really good questions and questions that we all have as well. Yeah. But it's not the only questions that we have.

REID: A completely legitimate questions. But informants are complicated people, right? They occupy sort of these dark places, deal with shady people, and they are in and of themselves shady. This is someone who had provided good information. You can see why they might trust it.

But look, they're not the only ones who have the question. Hunter Biden also has some questions about this because he's argued that Smirnov lies helped to quote, infect the political environment added to political pressure on prosecutors, the Special Counsel David Weiss.

And David, that is part of why he is now facing two separate criminal cases. So, they've asked the FBI, they want more information about exactly when they started to sort -- part of plea deal fell apart, exactly because of the political pressure that David was under. That's certainly what they allege.

I have to ask about James Biden. There is another Biden, the president's brother, who is going behind closed doors on Capitol Hill today, he is facing accusations about pocketing foreign cash. What do you -- what can you tell us about these allegations? And in what realm they're in?

WILLIAMS: It's really the same question. It's whether loans given from the President Biden were longer Chinese money, which is what the representatives in the House -- the House of Representatives are saying, or whether it was simply a loan between brothers and it's the same point we've been talking about here.

If in fact, anyone has evidence to substantiate whether this was in fact laundered Chinese money, then bring that evidence. And either refer it to law enforcement for prosecution law, impeachment individual on the basis of it. The simple fact is no one has come forward with anything really substantial.

And at a certain point, every minute that they are working on these wild goose chases, informing the president and his family. They're not fixing the border or addressing the fentanyl crisis or whatever else it might be. Not that -- you know, members of Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time.

BASH: Can they?

WILLIAMS: That's a fair question. But this is -- you know, and I know this -- and I know this well. Law enforcement takes time to build these investigations. And right now, it just doesn't seem like there's much there.

BASH: This is such an interesting -- all of it is just fascinating. Thank you very much. Don't go anywhere. Donald Trump says what happened to Alexei Navalny in Russia is happening to him here in the U.S. He still won't call out Vladimir Putin for Navalny's death in a remote arctic prison. Stay with us.



BASH: Nearly every leader in the western world has condemned Vladimir Putin for the mysterious death of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. Not the far and away frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. Instead, Donald Trump is drawing parallels between the Russian opposition leader and himself.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Navalny, it is a very sad situation and he's very brave. He was a very brave guy because he went back. He could have stayed away. And frankly, probably would have been a lot better off staying away and talking from outside of the country as opposed to having to go back in because people thought that could happen and it did happen. And it's a horrible thing.


But it's happening in our country too. We are turning into a communist country in many ways. And if you look at it, I'm the leading candidate. I get indict. I never heard of being indicted before I was born. I got indicted four times. I have eight or nine trials all because of the fact that I'm going to -- you know, this all because of the fact that I'm in politics.


BASH: Joining me now, David Chalian is still here to discuss this in more, along with CNN's Priscilla Alvarez, Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, and CNN's Kristen Holmes. Kristen, I'm just going to throw this to you first, since you cover Donald Trump every day.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is actually the most we've seen him even be complimentary of Navalny at all. I mean, he has not condemned him in -- condemn Putin in anyway, condemned ---

BASH: It still hasn't.

HOLMES: It still hasn't, right -- of Navalny. He actually completely ignored it. And the only thing that he had said up until this point was that learning about the death of Navalny made him realize how bad things were in the United States.

Again, he followed through with this at this town hall and this is really what Donald Trump does. None of this to me is surprising. The day after we learned about Navalny's death, I was asked by a number of colleagues whether or not Donald Trump was going to respond. And I said, I guarantee if he does. He will not mention Putin or Navalny, which is exactly what happened that day.

This is how Donald Trump respond to everything he makes about himself. He's the victim here. He believes that he wants to continue to sell this idea that America is a place where he has been politically persecuted. But it's just not surprising that this is ---

BASH: You're going to -- people are going to get sick of me saying this. I think I've said it with you on the show. Shocking, not surprising. Yes. Let's hear a little bit more of what Donald Trump said last night.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, when you put up that kind of money because you have a bond to put up. Even if you appeal, you got to put up escrow money. There is a lot of corridors.

TRUMP: It is a form of Navalny. It is a form of communism or fascism. The guy's a nut job.


BASH: Is a communism or fascism?

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS & CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What do you say? What you are hearing from that townhall. And just going back to what Kristen was talking about. It's not a surprise because if you -- it is also who Donald Trump is not instead -- in addition to just making himself the victim and making other issues about himself, but it is also who he is, when it comes to Russia.

This is not someone who has ever challenged a Russia through his words. This is someone who has not challenged Putin. This is someone who took the word of Putin over the U.S. intelligence agencies. And it is -- so again, this is someone that he has kind of shown who he is when it comes to this -- you know, this autocrat -- this leader that basically all of the western world has condemned.

CHALIAN: And even the intentional -- perhaps intentional, perhaps he doesn't have the full story, but I'll assume it's intentional. Absence of Navalny's -- like when he was -- when he did finally talk about Navalny, he was talking about Navalny's own personal safety. And of going in ----

BASH: He should've gone back.


CHALIAN: As if misunderstood the whole point of why Navalny was going in or deliberately leaving that out as part of the equation. So that would even be a step without taking on Putin if you didn't want to, to actually just champion the cause that Navalny was fighting. He refuses to do that as well.

BASH: Let's talk about the man you cover every day, Joe Biden, the president, and the way that his campaign and him in particular is trying to again sort of bouncing off of MJ Lee's reporting yesterday, every single time. His likely opponent says something like this or anything else, jump on it.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The former President Trump and other Republicans refused to hold Putin accountable for his death. Instead, Trump said Navalny's death made him realize how bad America is. He said, and I, "we are a nation and declined, a fairly nation". Why does Trump always blame America? Putin is responsible for the Navalny's death. Why can't Trump just say that?


PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Barney took that argument directly to donors last night during a fundraiser where he also said Trump fails to even condemn him and he went on to say, it's outrageous. This is something that the president is bringing on a domestic stage. He is telling voters this is someone who can't condemn the Russian president. It puts democracy at risk.

Imagine what happens if the president comes back into power. But he's also taking it to the world stage. Just last week, Vice President Kamala Harris said as much in Munich. She didn't invoke Trump specifically. But the argument was, we can't go back to the U.S. abandoning its allies and anything that even resembles that is a win for the Russian president.

And to your point about MJ's reporting, my colleague. It's all to seize on these comments of the former president is making to remind voters who he was in his first four years in office. That's really the crux of it. It's been a while now but remember who he was and the threat he poses to democracy, which the president has leaned in on. But also, to what it means for the United States standing on the world stage.


HOLMES: I think that this is a -- it is very important argument. And Donald Trump says a lot of things. He speaks mostly off the cuff. And he says a lot of things that would be perceived as unhinged. If you are the president of United States, who is repeating them out and repeating them back to voters.

However, as we have found time and time again, and again, I am traveling with this man across the country. I'm seeing him draw thousands and thousands of people, Donald Trump, that is, I don't know that just pointing out what he says is going to be something that impacts these voters, because in their mind and this is when I talked to them. They say that -- he's just saying that's -- these are just things he said.

BASH: It's the persuadable, the independents, the people who voted for Donald Trump the first time Joe Biden in 2020. And they're now kind of on the fence now. CHALIAN: Yeah, exactly. I agree. It's not going to impact those that he's drawing thousands. The question is the independence -- the folks in the middle that he repelled during his presidency. And we saw in 2018 midterms, in the 2020 election of Joe Biden, even in the 2022 midterms with Trump very prominently a part of that equation. If indeed, he still repels them or not. And the Biden team is doing what it's doing to try and ensure that he does.

ALVAREZ: So, what I find is that Republicans who I speak to, who say that they will vote for Trump this time, we're exhausted in 2020. They were absolutely tired of Donald Trump, even if they will not directly say that. A lot of them tell me that they didn't go to the polls.

These are people I'm meeting in Iowa and New Hampshire, they're going to go to the polls for Donald Trump this time around because they believe that that exhaustion was better than what they have now, whether or not that's a reality or not. That is what is their core belief.

BASH: We got to sneak in a break. You have one quick ---

KIM: Yeah. I just wanted it so interesting about just the whole concept that continues of, oh, he's just saying that because that's kind of the logic that Republicans -- elected Republicans have continued to try to use because this is a dynamic that Republicans were asked about. You know, your reaction to Navalny's death and how is Trump handling it?

And I thought what Mike Turner said over the weekend is really interesting, where he kept saying over and over that Donald Trump's political rhetoric doesn't translate into his policies. And that's kind of what these Republicans who know the power of the base have to say to themselves.

BASH: That was a very good tease for our next block because when I talk about -- what the Trump world or at least allies of his are hoping that he will do if he does win another term. What he would do to govern, that's next.