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Bombshell Indictment of GOP “Informant” Wrecks Trump’s Impeachment Scam

Swing-district Republicans will learn the hard way: Facts still matter, and impeachments still need to be about something.

Former President Donald Trump
Mario Tama/Getty Images

As you’ve surely heard by now, the FBI has criminally charged an informant for lying about claims related to an ongoing special counsel investigation into President Biden’s son Hunter Biden. The GOP’s legal case for impeaching the president, which rested partly on that informant, may be in the process of imploding rather spectacularly.

But to grasp the full extent of the political importance of this bombshell, imagine reading about it as a vulnerable Republican member of Congress from the suburbs of, say, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, or Phoenix. You were never crazy about the impeach-Biden push, which might force you to take votes that don’t go over well in such districts. Yet now the dynamic has substantially worsened: Even as the impeachment will get harder to defend, you know Donald Trump will keep demanding that it forge ahead.

All of which gets at a key dynamic about 2024: Trump’s undisguised effort to transform the GOP-controlled House into an instrument of his presidential campaign will put vulnerable Republicans in an increasingly untenable position. This will get worse—on one front after another.

In the latest news, special counsel David Weiss has charged an informant, Alexander Smirnov, with falsely telling the FBI that the two Bidens sought multimillion-dollar bribes from an energy company where Hunter Biden worked.

Republicans had spent months hyping that informant as the Deep Throat who would bring the “Biden crime family” crashing down. But the indictment charges that Smirnov fabricated a key piece of that “crime” narrative: that executives at Hunter’s company, Burisma, had confided that they hired Hunter to get then–Vice President Biden to protect them from prosecution in Ukraine, and paid $5 million bribes to both.

This story can’t be true, the indictment alleges, for many reasons, not least because the “informant” first connected with those Burisma executives after the senior Biden had left office as vice president and thus could no longer be influenced.

While for now these are mere allegations against the informant, Republicans had placed extraordinary stock in his claims. When they launched their “impeachment inquiry” into Biden last year, the claims constituted one of the justifications for it. As a Media Matters report chronicles, they drove an extraordinary litany of right-wing media nonsense over many months.

Stalwart MAGA types like Donald Trump Jr. are already declaring that the indictment of the informant only confirms the Deep State plot against Trump. But that’s puzzling, given that the same special counsel, Weiss, has already indicted Hunter Biden on other charges. Don Jr.’s claim puts one in mind of the parable of the universe as an infinite stack of “turtles all the way down”: In MAGA-land, when one Big Lie implodes, there’s always another conspiracy theory lying underneath it.

Regardless, as we digest this news, let’s not memory-hole this part of the story: If House Republicans are seeing their pursuit of President Biden implode, all this is largely happening because of Trump.

Remember, last fall, Trump spent a whole lot of time on the phone with House Republicans, privately urging them to pursue impeachment of Biden. What’s more, just a few days ago, Trump urged Republicans to impeach Biden right out in public, at a rally in South Carolina. What this shows is that, if the collapse of the informant’s story leads House Republicans to hesitate about impeaching Biden, Trump and the MAGA media machine will not tolerate it for a passing second.

That’s a problem for vulnerable House Republicans. Recall that they expressed trepidation about launching the impeachment inquiry, but GOP leaders persuaded them to go along by arguing that an inquiry is just a first step in a long process.

But here’s the thing: That process can’t be dragged out forever. Trump wants impeachment, not a mere inquiry. That Trump is now publicly demanding just that makes it more likely that in coming days, he’ll amplify this push—even as the informant fiasco makes it harder for vulnerable Republicans to defend the whole charade. Their straddle will grow more difficult.

Beyond all this, I can’t help but feel that this news threatens to wreck an even deeper scam that Trump and his MAGA allies are attempting. That’s the effort to turn impeachment and criminal prosecutions into things that are only perceived as political weapons, ones that can never have any legitimate factual or legal basis.

Trump has suggested that House Republicans should impeach Biden as revenge for his two impeachments. Similarly, Trump is also fond of saying that as president, he will launch prosecutions of the Biden family with no basis, openly describing this too as revenge for his indictments.

But Trump was impeached based on clear and damning sets of actually existing facts. He dangled U.S. military aid to strong-arm Ukraine into helping smear Biden, and he corruptly subverted the peaceful transfer of power, inciting a mob to try to finish the job. While Trump is presumed innocent of the criminal charges against him, the indictments were handed up by grand juries of citizens who listened to extensive factual evidence obtained and presented in keeping with judicial oversight and the rule of law.

By contrast, Trump is straightforwardly declaring that Biden should be impeached and then prosecuted regardless of what the facts say—that is, because of what’s happening to Trump. The deeper underlying idea here is that impeachments and prosecutions are nothing more than tit for tat; they are inevitably political all the way down; the winner of the election gets to prosecute, and the loser gets prosecuted. That’s the only way things can ever work.

That, I think, is why stories like this one about the informant are powerful: They punch through that haze of nihilism. Again, we don’t know that the allegations against the informant will be borne out. But they do remind us that facts really can matter, that proceedings like impeachments and prosecutions really can have a legitimate basis—or an illegitimate one.

So, yes, the informant’s implosion is big trouble for vulnerable House Republicans. They are being bulldozed into sustaining the illusions Trump is weaving about Biden with no telling of when or how badly the bottom will fall out from under them. But the news also deals a blow to Trump’s effort to drain things like “impeachment” and “criminal prosecution” of all legitimacy and meaning—which is to say, it threatens to wreck Trump’s biggest and most pernicious scam of all.