FBI official refutes top GOP claims on Hunter Biden investigation

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A high-ranking FBI official involved in the Hunter Biden investigation refuted key testimony from an IRS whistleblower who claimed the top prosecutor on the case was stymied by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in bringing charges outside Delaware.

Thomas Sobocinski, the FBI lead on the team investigating Hunter Biden, spoke with House investigators last week, pushing back on testimony from another agent in the case who said now-special counsel David Weiss was denied that authority and limited from bringing charges in districts beyond Delaware.

“I was consistently aware that David Weiss had the authority in the U.S. to bring the charges where venue presented itself,” Sobocinski told GOP investigators in a transcript obtained by The Hill and other media outlets. 

The testimony counters an account from IRS agent David Shapley, who said Weiss both sought and was denied special counsel authority. 

It’s a detail Republicans have honed in on following comments from Attorney General Merrick Garland that Weiss had ultimate authority on the case and would be offered special attorney status if he sought the power to bring charges outside Delaware, where he also serves as U.S. attorney.

“My memory of this is that it was a process or a bureaucracy thing he moves through, not a permission or authority issue,” Sobocinski, special agent in charge of the Baltimore Field Office, said in a transcribed interview.

“Approval means, to me, that’s more like, ‘Hey, I can say no.’  I never thought that anybody was there above David Weiss to say no,” he added. 

Weiss has subsequently been elevated to a special counsel, a move that came after a plea deal in Biden’s case fell apart, scrapping plans that would have had the president’s son plead guilty to two different tax charges.

In subsequent court filings, Weiss said he might bring charges in D.C. or in California, locations where Shapley and another IRS whistleblower said agents found stronger evidence of tax crimes.

Sobocinski is one of the highest-ranking officials still working on the case to speak with investigators, and on numerous queries declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Shapley recounted for investigators his recollection of an Oct. 7, 2022, meeting, in which he said Weiss said he was turned down after trying to get special counsel status and also that DOJ officials in D.C. had resisted his bringing charges there.

“U.S. Attorney Weiss stated that he subsequently asked for special counsel authority from main DOJ at that time and was denied that authority. Instead, he was told to follow the process, which was known to send U.S. Attorney Weiss through another President Biden-appointed U.S. Attorney,” Shapley told the House Ways and Means Committee in May.

But Sobocinski said Weiss did not make that assertion, something he said he would remember as “that would have been a total 180 from all our previous conversations about authorities.”

“He didn’t say that. In my recollection, if he would have said that, I would have remembered it,” Sobocinski said.

“I don’t have a recollection with him saying that there or at any point in my communication with Mr. Weiss.”

Sobocinski also addressed another GOP contention: that Biden’s case was mismanaged due to the influence of politics.

Shapley has not made that assertion, instead saying that he felt the case was slow-walked and mismanaged.

Still, Sobocinski said he raised that concern in another team meeting held shortly after a leak to the press about the case, asking if anyone working on it felt it was being politicized.

“I have a general sense that that was part of it, is that this was being politicized,” he said.

“And so I wanted to go on record in the room of the leaders who were involved in this investigation, I wanted to say I didn’t.” 

When he asked if anyone thought there was “any manipulation from the outside” impeding the case, “nobody in that room raised their voice to say anything other,” he said.

Much of Shapley’s recollection of the Oct. 7 meeting was based on what he said were contemporaneous notes. He subsequently raised his concerns about the discussion in an email.

Shapley’s attorneys Wednesday shared those notes in a memo also obtained by The Hill, showing his scrawling on Weiss’s alleged request for special counsel status noting, “Main DOJ said ‘no’ — follow the process.”

It does not appear Sobocinski was shown Shapley’s notes, but that he was instead shown the email he sent afterwards. Sobocinski does say he did not recall Shapley taking notes, a detail the IRS agent’s attorneys sought to refute.

Sobocinski pushed that issue with congressional investigators when shown the email.

“You keep saying contemporaneous notes. This is an email that appears to be written hours after that. So I know it’s semantics but, for me, contemporaneous notes are something that’s generated as it’s ongoing,” he said.

“And so for me, I want to say that this was more of a — I would describe this more of a summary email than contemporary notes.”

Emily Brooks contributed.

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