Ignoring the warnings, the GOP trumpeted the now-discredited allegations against Biden

In May 2023, Senator Charles E. Grassley, President Biden’s chief antagonist, walked to the Senate floor with shocking news: He had learned, he said, of a document in the FBI’s possession that could reveal “a criminal scheme involving then— Vice President Biden.”

Mr. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, suggested to all Americans listening that there was only one document that could corroborate the most sensational allegations of corruption against Mr. Biden – and that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was engaged in a cover-up.

“Did they sweep it under the rug to protect candidate Biden?” he asked conspiratorially.

During the next few months, the effort of Mr. Grassley to go public with the allegations — laid out in an obscure document known as FBI Form 1023 — has become a fixture and the basis of a growing Republican effort to impeach Mr. Biden as revenge for the Democrats’ treatment of former President Donald J. Trump.

At the heart of it all was an unsubstantiated allegation that Mr. Biden had taken a $5 million bribe from the CEO of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

But what neither Mr. What neither Grassley nor any of the Republicans who have reinforced the claims said in their breathless statements is that FBI officials have repeatedly warned them to be cautious about the allegation because it is unsubstantiated and its credibility unknown.

All the form proved, federal law enforcement officials explained, was that a confidential source said something, and they wrote it down. And now federal prosecutors say the lawsuit is trumped up.

But Republican warnings from the start about the materials did not stop them from repeating the unverified claim hundreds of times over many months, in official settings and in interviews with right-wing media.

Rep. James R. Comer, Republican of Kentucky and chairman of the House Oversight Committee, called the source of the allegations “very credible,” while Rep. Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called the form “the most corroborating evidence we have.”

Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 3 Republican in the House and one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal allies in the chamber, called it “the biggest political corruption scandal, not only in my lifetime, but I would say in the last 100 years.”

Republicans read it into the Congressional Record, included it as a “key” document on the website of the House Republican impeachment inquiry, and even threatened to hold FBI Director Christopher A. Wray in contempt when he resisted their calls to send them an unredacted copy of the form.

Last week, a federal grand jury in California indicted the former FBI informant who made the allegation, Alexander Smirnov, on charges of fabricating the 2020 story to help defeat Biden in the presidential campaign. The prosecutors also claimed in the court filing that Mr. Smirnov, a dual citizen of the United States and Israel who worked as a businessman and broker in former Soviet states, told federal investigators that “officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved” in passing an unspecified story about Hunter Biden, the president’s son, who was a member Board of Burisma.

Current and former law enforcement officials have said that confidential informants lie all the time — often to impress their handlers or assuage a grudge — which is why publishing a raw, unverified single-source report is strictly prohibited.

In a series of high-profile letters to congressional Republicans last spring and summer, senior FBI officials explained why they were reluctant to show lawmakers the form containing the claim, even in private.

“The mere existence of such a document would establish little other than the fact that a confidential human source provided the information and the FBI recorded it,” wrote Christopher Dunham, the agency’s acting assistant director, on May 10, 2023.

“Indeed, the FBI regularly receives information from sources with significant potential biases, motivations and knowledge, including drug traffickers, members of organized crime or even terrorists,” he added.

In another letter, Mr. Dunham warned Mr. Comer that disclosure of the unsubstantiated claims would jeopardize other confidential sources and would have a “chilling effect” on the recruitment of others.

But a few weeks later, after House Republicans threatened that Mr. Holding Wray in contempt of Congress for refusing to share the form, the bureau reluctantly agreed to provide a redacted copy for viewing at a secure facility on Capitol Hill. And several Republicans who saw it ignored the Bureau’s warnings by describing its contents as proof positive that Mr. Biden was corrupt.

When news broke last week that the Justice Department had accused Mr. Smirnov of making it up, Republicans played down their previous statements and blamed FBI and Justice Department officials for telling them that the person making the allegations was generally considered a credible source. (Democrats and Republicans alike agree that bureau officials initially presented the source to Congress as “very credible,” even if the allegations he made against Mr. Biden were not confirmed.)

“I’m sure they’re apologizing now,” Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican who was skeptical of the impeachment, said sarcastically of his colleagues. “I’m sure they’re saying, ‘Wow, Director Wray, you did the right thing. We really appreciate your professionalism.”

Mr. Buck, a former prosecutor for 25 years, said the FBI handled the allegation as any professional law enforcement agency should.

“You don’t run to the press every time a witness says something, because you don’t know how reliable that testimony is,” Mr. Buck said. “It was premature to come out and praise how significant this was without knowing the reliability of the testimony.”

Despite the Bureau’s warnings and Republican investigators’ inability to produce evidence to support the bribery claims, members of the party’s right wing have stepped up their attacks, linking it to their impeachment inquiry.

Mr Comer even blasted reporters for calling the allegations “unverified” instead of reporting that the whistleblower was “very credible” after MPs were shown the form.

In the following weeks, Mr. Comer, Mr. Jordan, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri and many others praised the allegations.

Perhaps no one went as far as Ms. Štefanik, who spoke on Fox News about what she described as the corruption scandal of the century.

“You have multiple members of the Biden family illegally profiting from foreign governments,” Ms. Stefanik said. “You also have bombshell reports, including potential tapes that exist, of Joe Biden taking bribes from Burisma while he was vice president.” (It was not clear what she meant; the charge made no mention of the tapes.)

And Representative Anna Paulina Luna, R-Florida, said the document provides concrete evidence of what Republicans suspected all along.

“This is absolutely something Oversight has speculated about,” she said. But now, she added, “we have proof.”

A few weeks later, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia read the allegations into the Congressional Record: “This form includes damning information that then-Vice President Joe Biden took a $5 million bribe from the oligarch who owns Burisma. Not only did Joe Biden take a $5 million bribe, but so did Hunter Biden.”

That, she added, is a sufficient reason to impeach Mr. Biden.

“What I am demanding is that the Republican-led House of Representatives move forward with an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden, because this type of corruption must never be allowed to stand,” she said.

The indictment filed in federal court in California portrays Mr. Smirnov as a serial liar whose motivation for targeting Biden appears to have been rooted in the same political animus that drove Republicans to promote his claims.

During the 2020 campaign, he sent his FBI director “a series of biased messages” against Mr. Biden, including typos and misspellings, boasting that he had information that would put him in jail.

After the indictment, Mr. Smirnova, the Democrats called for the suspension of the impeachment investigation.

Representative Dan Goldman, a New York Democrat who served as a federal prosecutor, said the FBI should never have released the 1023 form.

“It’s really a dereliction of duty for the investigators to do what they did, and that’s another reason why this investigation should be stopped immediately,” he said.

Instead of admitting they had exaggerated the evidence, Republicans turned around.

Despite his role in starting the frenzy, Mr. Grassley’s office denied that the Iowan promoted the allegations, saying he was “only asking what the FBI did to investigate the allegations and confirm them.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Grassley also claimed victory because, she said, the senator got the FBI to finally investigate the claim. “Given the timeline set forth in the DOJ indictment, it is clear that the FBI only began its investigation after Senator Grassley released 1023,” she said.

Mr Comer now says the impeachment inquiry “does not rely” on the form detailing the bribery allegations.

Mr. Jordan said that the indictment of Mr. Smirnova “does not change the fundamental facts” of the case against Mr. Biden.

Republicans quietly deleted the reference to the document from a request to interview a witness in their impeachment inquiry.

And by Friday, in the section of the impeachment website titled “Key Evidence,” the Form 1023 had been removed.

Kenneth P. Vogel contributed to the reporting. Zach Montague and Kitty Bennett contributed to the research.

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