By Jerry Dunleavy, Justice Department Reporter
Two top Senate Republicans want answers on a controversial summer 2020 FBI briefing, as whistleblower disclosures claim the bureau improperly labeled evidence on Hunter Biden “disinformation” around the same time.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray this week asking for more details about an Aug. 2020 briefing on alleged Russian influence efforts that he says were pushed on him and then leaked to the press to hurt his investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden. Whistleblowers revealed to him recently that FBI officials were undercutting or burying facts about President Joe Biden’s son around the same time.
FBI supervisory intelligence analyst Brian Auten opened an assessment in Aug. 2020 that “was used by a FBI Headquarters team to improperly discredit negative Hunter Biden information as disinformation and caused investigative activity to cease,” according to whistleblower disclosures.
“Importantly, it’s been alleged to my office that Auten’s assessment was opened in August 2020, which is the same month that Senator Johnson and I received an unsolicited and unnecessary briefing from the FBI that purportedly related to our Biden investigation and a briefing for which the contents were later leaked in order paint the investigation in a false light,” Grassley told Garland and Wray on Monday.
The senator’s letter said congressional Democrats asked for a briefing in July 2020 “from the very same FBI HQ team that discredited the derogatory Hunter Biden information.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Senate Intelligence Committee’s then-Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) wrote to Wray in July 2020 that they were “gravely concerned, in particular, that Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation.” Grassley and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) repeatedly denied pushing disinformation at the time.
Grassley told Wray and Garland that the claims from that 2020 letter “were later leaked to the press to try and smear our Biden investigation as unrelated foreign disinformation.” Grassley also said two Senate Democrats then requested another July 2020 briefing from the FBI team that had wrongly shot down Hunter Biden evidence.
“The concurrent opening of Auten’s assessment, the efforts by the FBI HQ team, and the efforts by the FBI to provide an unnecessary briefing to me and Senator Johnson that provided our Democratic colleagues fodder to falsely accuse us of advancing foreign disinformation draws serious concern,” Grassley told Garland and Wray.
Auten was involved in the Trump-Russia investigation, interviewing Igor Danchenko, the alleged main source for British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier, in 2017. Auten had been referred by Wray for potential disciplinary action following the release of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s 2019 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse report, though Wray said those proceedings were slowed down to cooperate with special counsel John Durham’s criminal investigation.
Johnson sent his own letter Wednesday to Garland, Wray, Horowitz, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines about the controversial briefing on Wednesday, claiming he had spent nearly two years seeking information from the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“The inability of FBI and ODNI to be transparent with Congress on this matter and other matters relating to Hunter Biden is deeply concerning,” Johnson said.
Johnson also reminded Horowitz of a July 2021 letter he and Grassley had sent the watchdog to request “an immediate review and investigation relating to the Justice Department’s and FBI’s process and procedure to prepare for and provide defensive and counterintelligence briefings,” with an emphasis on the Aug. 2020 briefing, and he pressed Horowitz on whether the inspector general was investigating.
“If the Office of Inspector General is unwilling or unable to conduct an investigation into the potential political targeting of U.S. Senators by federal law enforcement entities, then the appointment of a Special Counsel would be fully justified and long overdue,” Johnson said.
The Grassley-Johnson report on the Biden family and on Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine and China was released in September 2020.
Joe Biden’s campaign and its allies dismissed the Hunter Biden laptop story as a Russian disinformation operation in October 2020. Konstantinos “Gus” Dimitrelos, a cyber expert and former Secret Service agent, conducted a review for the Washington Examiner and concluded that “the data contained on the hard drive is authentic.”