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What is it about Dana Farber that makes it such a powerful adversary against cancer?


It's hundreds of Dana Farber researchers and clinicians making new discoveries inspired by the work of previous Dana Farber discoverers.


At Dana Farber Cancer Institute, nothing is as effective against cancer as a relentless succession of breakthroughs. Learn more about their momentum. Go to Danafarber. Org/stories. Let's see if we can do this. Do you want to hear some of what I thought about it?


I would like to hear that. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this episode. Yeah.


I think this is a story about what happens when intelligence and politics are braided together. It's a story about sources, who sources are and how truthful they are and how much they can be trusted. Intelligence is not really what it sounds like. Intelligence is the raw information, claims, mutterings that the intelligence community collects as it tries to understand the world. The problem with intelligence is that it's really alluring. This is a story about what happens when intelligence, this thing that should be closely guarded and used by government officials to make decisions, is harnessed by politicians for their political ends.


From the New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. Today, Mike Schmidt on how a single piece of unverified intelligence became the centerpiece of a Republican attempt to to impeach President Biden, and what happened once that intelligence was discredited. It's Monday, March fourth. Mike, if this is a story about a piece of intelligence and its journey through our government, I think we should start there with the piece of intelligence and the story behind it.


As you probably remember, heading into the 2020 election, Donald Trump rightly identified Joe Biden as his biggest political problem, and he dispatched his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to dig up dirt on the Biden family. Giuliani went to Ukraine. He met with these officials and figures there. And he came back and is basically like, Joe Biden's son is corrupt, and Joe Biden is part of it, and made such a fuss that the attorney general, Bill Barr, eventually asked a United States attorney in Pennsylvania to essentially just deal with Rudy. Listen to what Rudy has to say. Find out if any of it is true, and if it is, pass it along to the investigators who should look at it.


I remember all this. It was not about Hunter Biden so much as tying Joe Biden, his father, to his son's alleged corruption.


Exactly. What we didn't know at the time was that the US attorney's investigator went back and looked through government files, and they see that years earlier, an FBI informant told his handler that he had a contact at the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, where Joe Biden's son, Hunter, was on the board.


On the board and very well paid.


Correct. So that US attorney asks that the FBI handler go back and ask the informant what he knows about Hunter Biden. And in response, the informant makes a very salacious allegation. Which is what? He says that Hunter Mr. Biden and his father each took $5 million in bribes from Burisma. In exchange for that money, Joe Biden, in his position as vice president at the time, would protect Burisma from corruption investigations by a Ukrainian prosecutor. In other words, Joe Biden took a politically motivated bribe.


This is the moment when this piece of intelligence we're talking about in this episode is born. It's a bombshell that a senior American elected official, former vice President, has gone rogue and taken money from a foreign company asking him to protect it. I mean, a genuinely shocking claim.


Well, it's potentially a bombshell, or it's one person telling his FBI handler something he says he heard. It's what one informant relayed to the FBI. This is really important. What we're looking at in this case is not some polished product that's been vetted and analyzed and put into the presidential daily briefing. What we're talking about in this case is information at the bottom rung of the ladder for the intelligence community. This is raw source reporting that rolls into the country's law enforcement and intelligence agencies from its sources and informants. It's something more akin to rumor than a corroborated piece of intel.


Got it. What ends up happening to this piece of intelligence?


What happens is that That US attorney who was sifting through these allegations about Hunter Biden closes his inquiry and sends the bribery allegation information to another United States attorney in Delaware who was investigating whether Hunter Biden should be charged for his taxes, his purchase of a gun, and his foreign business dealings. This is a big black hole in the story. We don't know what happens with this information other than the fact that it sits in the FBI's files. And then Biden wins the presidency, and Republicans who want to take down the President and are still seeking revenge from the two impeachments of Trump, want to find a link between Joe and his son, but they can't. And that's the case for three long years. Until late last spring. Senator from Iowa. When Chuck Grassley, the Senator from Iowa, goes to the floor. Thank you, Mr. President. And in multiple speeches, he says that whistleblowers have approached his office to tell him that the FBI has very damaging allegations on the Biden family. The allegations my office has received are very precise, very direct, and very consistent. Grassley says that this information is documented in a form that the FBI uses all the time called a 1023.


The 1023 that I sought from the FBI references a criminal scheme scheme involving then Vice President Biden and his alleged receipt of $5 million. He says that politics has infected the bureau and that this information- The FBI leaves the source to be credible. Which was given to the FBI by a trusted informant. It's not being investigated. Did the FBI follow normal investigating processes and procedures, or did they just sweep this under the rug? Congress and the American people need to see what this document says. Quit playing games and recognize who you work for. You're not working to protect the corporate interests of the FBI. You're working for the American people, a yield. Almost on cue, The conservative media goes nuts with it. One of the FBI's top informants reported an allegation that Joe Biden took a $5 million bribe from a foreign national in exchange for a policy decision. This was not just any confidential human source, by the way. It seems like that source was highly valued. The new question is this, is Joe Biden still making good on the bribe? We know the Democrat Party simply doesn't care if Joe Biden took millions in bribes.


There is no set of evidence that will ever be strong enough, ever, to get them to say enough. So as Grassley is making these claims, he and his allies in the House subpoena the document from the FBI. There's a whole back and forth. As the FBI warns Congress, Look, this is unverified information that we have in our files. We're not just going to hand this over to you. But the Republicans keep the pressure on the FBI. They threaten to hold the FBI director, Chris Ray, in contempt.


If he doesn't give them the document.


And in the face of that, Ray allows Congress to see a redacted copy of the document that shows what the informant told the handler.


This feels like an important moment because this is the FBI taking unverified intelligence and allowing it to enter the political sphere. I mean, let's be honest, the people demanding this document are not members of the House Intelligence Committee trying to better understand US-Ukraine relations. They are pretty far-right Conservatives who are openly seeking to find evidence against the President.


And are doing this at the same time that the FBI is saying, Look, all this document does is show what an informant told a handler. It shouldn't be seen as anything more than that. Okay.


So what happens once these Congressional Republicans get a glimpse of this document?


They come out in an aha moment and say, We've got Joe Biden connected to his son's corruption.


This is the biggest political corruption scandal, not only in my lifetime, but I would say the past 100 years.


The evidence is overwhelming. We're not talking about Republican partisan witnesses This is from some far right wing conspiracy. We're talking about FBI informants, trusted FBI informants coming forth. And by September, with this bribery allegation as the centerpiece. That's why today I am directing our House Committee to open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. Republicans move ahead with an impeachment inquiry into the President.


The American people deserve to know that the that the public offices are not for sale, and that the federal government is not being used to cover up the actions of a politically associated family.


It's important to note that beyond this bribery allegation, the Republicans don't have much.


We will go wherever the evidence takes us. We'll be right With the stakes of this rising by the moment, we're now talking impeachment in the House, how, Mike, do we come to understand that this salacious bombshell claim was not, in fact, true.


In the wake of the Republicans kicking up all this stuff about the allegation, that US attorney in Delaware finally goes and investigates it.


Takes that allegation of bribery that perhaps has been sitting around his office and says, I'm going to figure out whether this is real.


Correct. Working with the US attorney, the FBI handler goes back to the informant to talk about the allegation, to see what else is there. Okay. The Justice Department starts to have doubts about the accuracy of his story.


Why? What explains that?


Well, let me tell you a little bit about who the informant is. Okay. The informant is a guy in his early '40s named Alexander Smirnov. He's been living in the US, and he's been an FBI informant for over a decade. In that role, he's provided information to the bureau that led to criminal investigations. And even more, he's received special dispensation from the FBI to go out and conduct criminal activity as he gets information for the bureau.


Okay, so he's a valuable source. Why does the Justice Department suddenly have doubts about him?


Because his story is not holding up to scrutiny. Smirnov had said that he learned about the allegation in 2015 or 2016, but he actually hadn't been talking to anyone at Burisma until 2017, after Joe Biden had left office as vice President. He also said he saw footage of Hunter Biden entering a hotel in Ukraine and that were audio recordings of Hunter talking about the bribe. But Hunter hadn't been to Ukraine at that point. So these inconsistencies were really alarming to the FBI. And on top of that, the informant is telling his handler about how much he doesn't like Joe Biden and how much Joe Biden's ties to Ukraine are going to take down his presidency. And perhaps even more troublingly, the informant tells the FBI that he's recently been in touch with Russian intelligence officials who have been feeding him their own information, including some on Hunter Biden.


In other words, the informant might be a Russian asset, might be doing the bidding of the Russian government, which has a long history of trying to feed misinformation into the American political system. We learned that, of course, in 2016.




So ultimately, Mike, what conclusion does the FBI and this US attorney draw about this informant when they go back and start finding all these inconsistencies and problems?


That he can't be trusted about anything and that he fabricated the bribery claim. We learn all this because something extraordinary and unusual happens. The Justice Department, just a couple of weeks ago, indicts the informant for lying to the FBI, and now he's sitting in jail awaiting trial.


You said that arresting this informant was unusual. Why does the US government charge the informant?


What's unique here is that the government usually doesn't charge informant. Informant Informants are not nuns and priests. They're people that are playing in the dirty parts of the world. Sometimes they tell the truth, sometimes they shade it, sometimes they make things up. In that, at times, really important colonels that the US government has to learn about. If you charge informants, you're going to deter other informants from talking to the bureau because they know, Oh, man, if I make a mistake, I, too, make it charge myself.


So should we understand the fact that the government charges this informant as perhaps a measure of just how offended they were by the nature of the lies he told and based on the fact that it contributes to an impeachment inquiry, the oversize impact that it had?


I don't know, but I think you might be right. This is something that was weaponized by a political party and used essentially as the centerpiece of an impeachment inquiry. The weight of that lie, the importance of it, was more than just your average allegation. I don't know that that is the reason that they did this, but certainly it's hard to not think that it contributed to it in some way.


Mike, I think it's worth just pausing and reflecting on what you just told us, because what the journey of this piece of intelligence tells us is that House Republicans, and to a degree, Senate Republicans, Chuck Grassley, took a single strand of raw intelligence that they had been told was never verified, and they ran with it in the biggest way possible. They made it a centerpiece of their efforts to link a sitting president with the foreign business dealings of his son, claimed it represented corruption, and they made it the centerpiece of their efforts to impeach Joe Biden. Now we know that the government regards that information as a fabrication and the informant who delivered it as a serial liar. That's a pretty remarkable story.


It's extraordinary. It's also not how the system is supposed to work. Intelligence is not supposed to be harnessed by politicians to knock off their enemies. It's supposed to be there to inform decision-makers as they look at this crazy, big, confusing world and try to make the right call.


Right. Like you said, In every way, this seems to be a case study of how intelligence is not properly handled in our system. I wonder, therefore, what the larger lesson of this is. I mean, is it about picking better informants? Is it about running intelligence down better, making sure you figure out if something's true and don't just lock it away in a file cabinet? Is it about never giving it to lawmakers who could abuse it? What is the meaning of this story?


I think it's about being humble to the fact that just because one person said something doesn't necessarily mean it's true. And that when we hear things, that there's a bit of skepticism that not everything that is recorded by the government or said publicly is true. And that we have to have some humility to the fact that this is a really complex, crazy world, and not every disclosure answers the major questions of the moment. And I think that in a time where there's a ton of uncertainty, people grasp for these things and they try to use them to make their point. But at the end of the day, it may not be true.


So that, of course, brings us to the question of where this all leaves this impeachment inquiry. I mean, the foundation of it, the missing link, the alleged smoking gun evaporates, and its source is branded a serial liar and fabricated by the US government. Does that kneecap the Republicans' impeachment process?


The hardline Republicans have said, This indictment, it's just the next part of the cover up. It's just the next way that the FBI is doing the bidding of the Biden crime family.


So you're saying many of the Republicans who first relied on this now false intelligence are undeterred by the fact that it has been branded fake by the government?


And are now also claiming that this allegation was not that central to the impeachment inquiry.


But it was.




If you are a foreign government who wishes America ill, if you are Russia, You have to be watching all this and licking your chops, right? I mean, whether or not Russia fed this informant misinformation about a bribe involving Hunter and Joe Biden, the journey of this piece of intelligence suggests that feeding misinformation into our system is still a very reliable way to wreak havoc in the United States political system. It's not the first time we've learned that lesson, but it's an incredibly vivid example that it still could do a tremendous amount of damage.


It almost seems too easy for our adversaries. You think of intelligence operations as these really complex things that involve gadgets and double agents. But to get the United States ramped up and huffing and puffing And impeaching its president? You really just need to feed one side something that fits their narrative. Right. And they followed out the window.


Well, Mike, thank you very much.


Thanks for having me.


We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to know today. Over the weekend, Donald Trump won three more nominating contests in Michigan, Missouri, and Idaho, doubling his delegate count and making clear that his last remaining rival, Nikki Haley, has no real path forward. So far, Haley has won just a single primary, the district of Columbia. Trump is expected to officially clinch the Republican nomination by the end of the month.


Lebron dribbles at Porter, sizes him up, 360, spin to the rim, head in. There it is.


40,000. Lebron makes history. Lebron James has become the first player in NBA history to score 40,000 career points after making a left-hand layup during the LA Lakers' matchup against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday The milestone may help to settle a long-running debate over who is the greatest NBA player of all time. James, the Times wrote, is now, quote, all by himself in the annals of basketball history. Today's episode was produced by Ricky Nowetzky, Olivia Natt, and Will Reid. It was edited by MJ Davis Lynn and Devon Taylor. Fact Checked by Susan Lee contains original music by Mary Lozano and Alicia Leetup, and was engineered by Alyssa Moxley. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Lansberg of Wunderly. That's it for the Daily. Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.