WASHINGTON – As federal investigators in Delaware examined Hunter Biden’s finances during his father’s presidential campaign, a similar investigation intensified this year in Pittsburgh, fueled by documents provided by President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Attorney General William P. Barr had asked Pittsburgh Federal Attorney Scott W. Brady to accept and verify all information Mr. Giuliani had on the Biden family, including Hunter Biden. Mr Brady hosted Mr Giuliani for a nearly four-hour meeting at the end of January to discuss his documents.
The arrangement immediately sounded alarm bells within the FBI and the Department of Justice. Mr Giuliani had been Mr Trump’s attack dog during the Russia inquiry before becoming the face of an effort to tarnish Hunter Biden during President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign If l Mr. Brady’s investigation was becoming public, as agents feared the FBI could be drawn into a politically toxic battle in the middle of the presidential election, as it did in 2016.
Officials were concerned about how the Justice Department, which they said was trying to appease the president, would handle the investigation. Some Pittsburgh prosecutors and agents viewed Mr. Brady as a Trump loyalist who would be supposed to run for office, and they expressed concern that Mr. Brady was using the FBI as a weapon to undermine Mr. Biden’s candidacy. At one point, Mr Brady made it clear that he wanted US Delaware attorney David C. Weiss to continue his investigation, even though Mr Brady is not authorized to head the offices of other federal prosecutors. .
This account is based on interviews with five current and former law enforcement officers and others with knowledge of the FBI’s interactions with the Department of Justice. Most spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss further federal investigations.
Mr Giuliani himself has also been the subject of a criminal investigation in New York over his dealings in Ukraine, including his efforts to oust the US ambassador to the country, which was at the heart of the impeachment trial. And the Pittsburgh investigation appeared to parallel the ongoing Delaware investigation.
Mr Brady has not brought any criminal charges and Mr Barr has not publicly discussed the status of the investigation since revealing in February that the department would accept Mr Giuliani’s documents.
Hunter Biden revealed this week that Delaware prosecutors were continuing to investigate him for possible federal tax crimes, serving several subpoenas on Mr. Biden and his associates on Tuesday after apparently lying dormant in the run-up to the elections. The investigation appeared to be centered on his relations with China and with Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board he sat, according to people familiar with the matter.
Legal experts said prosecutors could examine how Mr. Biden got the money to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liens this year.
The elected president is not under investigation. But the disclosure of a criminal investigation into his son has pushed Mr Biden into an indicted position as he prepares to take office. Republican senators have called for an independent special advocate to investigate Hunter Biden, and Mr. Trump complained that the Delaware investigation did not surface until the election.
“I am proud of my son,” Biden told reporters on Friday.
The FBI and the Department of Justice declined to comment. Mr. Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2018, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Wilmington, Del., Quietly began investigating whether Hunter Biden had violated money laundering laws, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Investigators ultimately determined that the money laundering aspect of the Hunter Biden investigation was not going to lead to charges. But they had discovered potential violations of tax law and believed they had the makings of a solid tax case against him, according to several people familiar with the matter. The investigation came to involve IRS agents.
Separately, Mr. Giuliani was gathering information in Ukraine that could benefit Mr. Trump by injuring his suspected rivals, including Mr. Biden. Mr Giuliani had tried to promote scrutiny of Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma, which had been mired in a corruption scandal. He accused Joseph R. Biden Jr. of corruptly pushing for the ousting of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, who was investigating Burisma, in favor of his son while he was vice president. No evidence of wrongdoing by the president-elect has emerged.
Central to his impeachment was Mr. Trump’s campaign to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce investigations that could help him politically. During his arraignment, Mr Giuliani sought to equate his allegations about Hunter Biden with accusations that Mr Trump had abused his power.
He also continued to campaign to deepen any investigation that could benefit Mr. Trump by damaging his opponents. Mr. Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert J. Costello, asked the Justice Department to set up a meeting to discuss what he considered to be explosive about Hunter Biden that he had gathered from people in Ukraine and elsewhere, according to a person with a direct knowledge of the matter.
In response, Mr. Brady called Mr. Costello and offered to meet. Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Costello sent reams of documents to Pittsburgh and then went there on January 29. They were taken in by FBI agents and arrested for breakfast before meeting for nearly four hours at the local FBI office with Mr. Brady and his lead investigating MPs Stephen Kaufman and Ira Karoll. , the person said.
Mr. Costello has had several subsequent conversations with Mr. Brady’s office, including as recently as this summer, regarding the Bidens. Mr. Costello and Mr. Giuliani also recommended a handful of potential witnesses in the United States and Ukraine to be interviewed by the FBI, but Mr. Costello said the FBI never followed up.
“The choice of which US attorney’s office to investigate a case is left to the Department of Justice, not the FBI,” Costello said, adding that no one from the FBI or Mr. Brady’s office had informed them. concerns about their on the Bidens. “It is inappropriate for the FBI to question the court ruling.”
At a press conference about a week after the meeting, Barr announced that he had created a process for receiving information about Ukraine in order to “assess its provenance and credibility.”
He didn’t mention Pittsburgh or the meeting. Mr Barr warned that investigators should be careful of any information coming from Ukraine, including Mr Giuliani. “There are a lot of agendas in Ukraine, a lot of ripples,” Barr warned. “And we cannot take everything we have received from Ukraine at face value.”
It was not clear why Mr Barr had given Mr Brady the task, but he handed over other politically sensitive investigations to trusted US lawyers outside of Washington.
Investigators viewed Mr Barr’s decision to empower Mr Brady as highly unusual because prosecutors in Delaware had already been examining Hunter Biden for over a year.
Colleagues saw Mr. Brady, whom Mr. Trump appointed to the post in 2017, as a deeply partisan leader. While serving as an assistant attorney in the office during the George W. Bush administration, he said he would never serve a Democrat, and he left after former President Barack Obama was elected.
After his return to lead the office, some prosecutors complained about his approach to prosecution, including the Hunter Biden investigation. Amid the discontent, Mr Kaufman, the longtime career prosecutor who was his senior deputy, was marginalized after passing objections to Mr Brady. Mr Karoll, a young lawyer who joined the firm in 2017 from firm Jones Day, was brought up.
The investigation in New York on Mr. Giuliani also
set up a potentially messy situation that could allow him to take advantage of the work in Pittsburgh – and his role as a potential witness in any event – against a lawsuit in New York.
Federal enforcement officials were also concerned that Mr. Giuliani would submit questionable information to the Justice Department to make it appear more credible than it actually was. They said it was impossible to separate his efforts from his crusades on the president’s behalf, and some told associates he could damage the department’s credibility by forcing investigators to look into issues that looked like nothing more than conspiracy theories.
Officials said Mr Brady almost immediately started pushing for aggressive action. He had a list of people he wanted FBI agents to interview. It was not clear if these were the same witnesses Mr Giuliani and Mr Costello submitted, but a former enforcement official said Mr Brady wanted the FBI to interview the people mentioned in Mr. Giuliani’s documents.
The steps were outside “normal investigative procedures,” said a former senior law enforcement official familiar with the events, particularly in an election year; Department of Justice policy generally prohibits investigators from taking aggressive steps ahead of elections that could affect the outcome of the vote if they become public.
The Pittsburgh FBI office refused to comply without the approval of David L. Bowdich, deputy director of the FBI, the former official said.
Mr Brady’s demands quickly sparked a tense confrontation with FBI officials at the office’s headquarters in Washington. The meeting was publicized by Seth D. DuCharme, now the acting US attorney in Brooklyn and at the time a trusted assistant and ally to Mr Barr at the Justice Department in Washington.
The FBI considered the steps in the investigation of Mr. Biden that Mr. Brady was seeking unwarranted because the Delaware investigation into money laundering had failed and because they were skeptical of Mr. Giuliani’s documents. . For example, they had previously examined a laptop belonging to Mr Biden and an external hard drive that had been abandoned at a computer store in Wilmington and found nothing to further the investigation.
Investigators were also concerned that the effort would become public – especially any interview with witnesses who were Mr. Giuliani’s sources of information – and could bring the FBI back into the politics of the presidential campaign, the same tumultuous path it did. had stumbled in 2016 with investigations into Hillary. Clinton’s private mail server and Trump campaign ties to Russia.
Still, Mr Brady urged the FBI to do more, officials said. Officers found ways to ostensibly satisfy Mr. Brady without upsetting the election. It is not known how they compromised, but officers could have investigated more quietly, such as interviewing witnesses they were convinced would remain silent or checking databases.
Reporting was contributed by Rachel Shorey, Kenneth P. Vogel and Charlie savage from Washington, and William K. Rashbaum and Nicole hong from New York.