New testimony from several FBI and Internal Revenue Service officials has cast doubt on key claims from an IRS whistleblower who alleges political interference in the federal criminal investigation of taxes by Hunter Biden.
According to transcripts provided to CNN, several FBI and IRS officials brought in for closed-door testimony by House Republicans in recent days said they did not recall U.S. Attorney David Weiss as saying he does not have the authority to decide whether to file charges against the president. son, or that Weiss said he was denied a request for special counsel status.
The twin claims, made by IRS whistleblower Gary Shapley, became the basis of Republican accusations that the Justice Department’s investigation into Biden’s taxes was tainted by political influence and that Weiss and the Attorney General tried Merrick Garland to defend Hunter Biden in the investigation.
The new testimony comes as House Republicans begin an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden and his family, potentially undermining one element of that effort.
At issue is a meeting in October 2022 between prosecutors and case agents working on the Hunter Biden investigation. Shapley alleges that during the meeting, Weiss, the former U.S. attorney for Delaware, told participants that he was “not the deciding person” on whether to indict Hunter Biden, according to Shapley’s notes from the meeting . House Republicans took that to mean Weiss was not conducting his own investigation, and was deferring to a higher authority.
In addition to Shapley and Weiss, there were five others at that meeting, three of whom recently testified to the Republican-led congressional committees now leading the impeachment inquiry.
While witnesses disputed Shapley’s key allegations from that meeting, they acknowledged that Weiss had trouble finding a venue to prosecute the president’s son, as U.S. attorneys from other states rejected in cooperation with the case. They also expressed frustration with the pace of the review, which at that point had been going on for nearly four years.
In June, Weiss reached a plea deal with Hunter Biden on tax and gun charges. But the deal fell apart amid a judge’s review, and Weiss later sought special attorney status. Last week, Hunter Biden was indicted on gun charges.
Republicans are expected to grill Garland with questions about Weiss’ plea deal and special counsel status when he appears before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
The Republican-led House Oversight Committee, which is investigating Hunter Biden’s businesses, plans the first impeachment hearing next Thursday.
Shapley’s lawyers argued that he took contemporaneous notes of the October 2022 meeting and that he sent an email to his supervisors recalling the meeting after it happened, while others in the room did not.
Shapley, a 14-year veteran of the IRS who oversaw parts of the Hunter Biden investigation, accused the congressional testimony of political interference in the investigation. He and the entire IRS team were later removed from the probe as Weiss neared a charging decision.
“I am alleging, with evidence, that the DOJ has given preferential treatment, slow-walked the investigation, done nothing to avoid an apparent conflict of interest in this investigation,” Shapley told lawmakers in his closed-door testimony last May.
In letters to the House Judiciary Committee, Weiss denied Shapley’s allegations, including that he was denied special counsel status in October 2022. by the DOJ regarding filing cases outside his district.
In their recent testimony, other FBI and IRS officials at the October 2022 meeting supported Weiss’ version of events at several key points of contention, particularly his allegation that Weiss said he ” not the deciding person” whether to bring charges.
“I don’t remember – I don’t – he didn’t say that. In my memory, if he said that, I would remember it,” Thomas Sobocinski, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore office, told the committee.
“I don’t remember being told,” said Darrell Waldon, who was Shapley’s former boss as an IRS special agent in charge of the Washington, DC, field office handling criminal investigations.
“I don’t remember him saying that,” said Ryeshia Holley, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI, adding that she thought Shapley might have been confused or misunderstood what was going on in the meeting.
Last week, CNN and others reported on Sobocinski’s testimony, prompting Shapley’s lawyers to dispute his recall of the October 2022 meeting.
“Mr. Sobocinski apparently acknowledged that he did not take notes at the meeting, nor did he document it in any contemporaneous way afterward,” attorney Mark Lytle and Tristan Leavitt, president of Empower Oversight, a nonprofit group that represents of whistleblowers, wrote a letter to the House. Judiciary Committee. “On the contrary, [supervisory special agent] Shapley took notes during the meeting.”
Shapley alleges that Weiss requested Special Counsel status in 2022 and was denied
When emailing her supervisor about the October 2022 meeting later that same day, Shapley claimed that Weiss said she had requested special counsel authority, and that the Justice Department “denied her request and told he will follow the process.”
Waldon responded to the 2022 email at the time by saying, “thanks, Gary. You covered everything.”
But when pressed by committee investigators earlier this month about it, Waldon said, “I agree that he covered everything up, but, in terms of the word ‘special counsel’ that was requested, I don’t recall using the words.”
Both Holley and Sobocinski also said they did not recall Weiss bringing up any discussion of the special counsel’s authority during the meeting.
Since Shapley’s allegation came to light in June, Weiss has told Congress that he never sought special counsel status, but was being considered to become a “special counsel” under a different law.
After the deal fell apart at the request of Hunter Biden, Weiss requested and was granted special counsel status. Weiss has offered to testify to Congress, but securing that testimony is more difficult now that he is a special counsel overseeing an ongoing criminal investigation.
While testimony from a trio of FBI and IRS officials complicates the allegations from the IRS whistleblower, it is not the final word on the matter in the House GOP probe. Congressional investigators also heard from Waldon’s supervisor, Michael Batdorf, who was absent from the October 2022 meeting, and a source told CNN that they subpoenaed two other officials from the DOJ’s tax division. involved in the Hunter Biden criminal case: Mark Daly and Jack Morgan.
Although they dispute Shapley’s claims that Weiss said he was denied special counsel status, they confirmed that Weiss said he was turned away when he tried to partner with US attorneys in Washington, DC, and California to bring a potential case there.
But other officials argue that doesn’t mean Weiss can’t bring a case there if she chooses.
“I believe Mr. Weiss said the case was presented and they did not agree to participate or take the case,” Waldon said of a discussion about the US attorney in Washington, DC, adding that he did not it is explained. no case can be brought there.
“I don’t understand that, that the case was dismissed — that they couldn’t be a party to the case,” Waldon added. “The case was still able to proceed.”
Shapley also said that Weiss disclosed at the meeting that he did not plan to bring charges in Hunter Biden’s tax years of 2014 and 2015, because of the statute of limitations that had expired.
FBI and IRS officials said they had no reason to dispute Shapley’s statements in the tax years, which covered Hunter Biden. while on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, a key part of House Republicans’ allegations surrounding Hunter Biden’s business.
“I remember the general charges for a conversation in the sense that that was something they were still deciding,” Holley said. “I don’t remember if it was said in this meeting that it wasn’t that – those tax years are not going to be paid. I just know that, again, those tax years and so on were part of the general discussions.
Evidence of Shapley’s character and memories
Holley said his experience working with Shapley was “very limited,” but he had no reason to believe he was lying.
“I have no reason to believe that Mr. Shapley is not true. But at the same time, my understanding and memory is different than his recorded in this document,” said Holley.
Holley, however, told committee investigators that he believed Shapley was confused about what happened at the meeting.
“From my understanding, as well as my recollection of the meeting, I certainly think there was some confusion or misunderstanding of things that were communicated,” Holley said.
Waldon told the panel he recommended Batdorf remove Shapley from the case. Waldon said Weiss told him after the October 2022 meeting that he “will not be speaking with Mr. Shapley from now on, as they continue their deliberation process.”
“Before I left the special agent in charge position, in February, I recommended to Mr. Batdorf Gary Shapley will be removed as [supervisory special agent] from the Hunter Biden investigation, primarily because of what I know to be unsubstantiated allegations about motive, intent, bias,” Waldon said.
“When I left, Mr. Shapley is still on the case, and as I understand it, it will be until May. So I think, my recommendation is just that, a recommendation,” he said.