Watch CBS News

Ex-FBI informant accused of lying to feds about the Bidens ordered detained pending trial

Manhattan DA seeks gag order in Trump trial
Manhattan DA seeks gag order in Trump criminal trial 02:26

Los Angeles — An ex-FBI informant who is accused of lying to investigators about President Biden and his son Hunter's business dealings was ordered detained pending trial in a Los Angeles court on Monday, just days after he was set free in Nevada.

Alexander Smirnov was charged with two counts that amounted to allegedly making up fake stories about the Bidens — namely that they were each paid $5 million by a Ukrainian energy company — and passing that false information along to his FBI handlers for further investigation in 2020. Special counsel David Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney who was elevated to continue his investigation into Hunter Biden, sought the indictment against him earlier this month. 

Last week, Smirnov, 43, was briefly released from federal custody after a magistrate judge in Las Vegas said that certain conditions would permit his secure pretrial freedom despite his alleged ties to foreign intelligence services that made him a flight risk. But on Thursday, Smirnov was taken back into federal custody and ordered to appear before the federal judge in Los Angeles who will oversee his case, following a request from prosecutors to reconsider the release order.

In court on Monday, prosecutors successfully argued that the judge should keep Smirnov detained, contending "he cannot be trusted." 

Smirnov, who was wearing a beige jumpsuit and shackles, pleaded not guilty to both counts. 

"There is nothing garden-variety about this case," the judge said from the bench. "I find no comfort in assurances you may offer that you will not flee the jurisdiction." 

Alexander Smirnov in federal court with his attorneys on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024.
Alexander Smirnov in federal court with his attorneys on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. Wes Rand/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In a notable move, Wright wrote in his initial order last week detaining Smirnov that defense attorneys were working to "arrange the release of Defendant Smirnov, likely to facilitate his absconding from the United States." The defense attorneys pushed back on those assertions, telling the judge he was "wrong." 

Smirnov's lawyers opposed his detention and wrote last week that his personal relationships in the U.S. mitigated his risk of fleeing the country and his lack of criminal history supported his release. 

"When he was arrested for a second time, Mr. Smirnov was already free and working on his defense in his lawyers' office," his legal team wrote, "This is hardly what would be expected of a person preparing to jump bail and flee the country; to the contrary, had he not been rearrested, Mr. Smirnov would have voluntarily traveled to Los Angeles with his lawyers to attend the upcoming hearing." 

During Monday's court hearing, his defense team pointed to Smirnov's longtime partner who they said could serve as a third-party custodian. Prosecutors pushed back, saying she did not know they had about $3 million in their savings accounts and could not be trusted.

Speaking outside of court Monday, Smirnov's attorney David Chesnoff said they might seek to appeal the judge's detention order. He also called the judge's comment that the attorneys might have been trying to help the defendant flee the U.S. a "dead issue."

In seeking Smirnov's detention, the special counsel's team revealed that after his arrest, the defendant claimed that individuals "associated with Russian intelligence" were tied to efforts to peddle a story about Hunter Biden. 

"He is actively peddling new lies that could impact U.S. elections after meeting with Russian intelligence officials in November," prosecutors wrote last week, without revealing which claim about Hunter Biden apparently stemmed from Russia. 

"Law enforcement knows about Smirnov's contact with officials affiliated with Russian intelligence because Smirnov himself reported on a number of those contacts to his FBI Handler," the special counsel's team alleged. "These contacts are extensive and extremely recent, and Smirnov had the intention of meeting with one of these officials on his upcoming planned overseas travel."

But it was not just Russia. Investigators alleged that the man charged with lying to them also claimed to have had contacts with other foreign intelligence services that all posed a risk if he had been granted pretrial release. 

Prosecutors did not say whether Smirnov's claims about the alleged ties to Russian intelligence have ever been substantiated and wrote that while he was used as an informant for many years, Smirnov was ultimately deemed unreliable and indicted.  

The alleged fake stories that Smirnov has been charged with providing to his FBI handlers were memorialized in a federal document that became a flashpoint for Republican Congressional leaders as they pushed ahead in their investigation of the first family's business dealings. They pointed to the document's allegations of bribery as evidence of misdeeds, but the charges against Smirnov blunted those claims as the ex-informant is accused of "transform[ing] his routine and unextraordinary business contacts with Burisma in 2017 and later into bribery allegations against" Hunter and Mr. Biden. 

His claims are not cited in either of Weiss' two indictments against the president's son, charging him with gun crimes and failure to pay taxes in federal courts in Delaware and California. Hunter Biden's legal team nevertheless referenced Smirnov's relationship with the FBI in a court filing last week in an effort to bolster their case. 

Hunter Biden has pleaded not guilty to all counts against him and has filed numerous motions to dismiss both indictments.  

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.