WASHINGTON – When federal investigators in Delaware were investigating Hunter Biden’s finances during his father’s presidential campaign, a similar investigation was opened earlier this year in Pittsburgh based on materials provided by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Attorney General William P. Barr had asked the Pittsburgh Attorney General Scott W. Brady to accept and review any information Mr. Giuliani had about the Biden family, including Hunter Biden. Mr. Brady hosted a nearly four hour meeting with Mr. Giuliani in late January to discuss his materials.
The agreement immediately triggered alarms within the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice. Mr Giuliani had served as Mr Trump’s attack dog during the Russia Inquiry before becoming an attempt to tarnish Hunter Biden during President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s campaign. If Mr Brady’s investigation went public, the agents feared that the F.B.I. could find itself embroiled in a politically toxic fight in the middle of the presidential election, as it was in 2016.
Officials were concerned about how the Justice Department, which they viewed as an attempt to reassure the president, would handle the investigation. Some Pittsburgh prosecutors and agents viewed Mr Brady as a Trump loyalist believed to be seeking office and expressed concern about Mr Brady exercising the F.B.I. as a weapon to damage Mr. Biden’s candidacy. At one point, Mr. Brady made it clear that he wanted US attorney in Delaware, David C. Weiss, to continue his investigation even though Mr. Brady is not empowered to direct the offices of other federal attorneys.
This report is based on interviews with five current and former law enforcement officers and others with knowledge of F.B.I. Interactions with the Department of Justice. Most spoke about the continuation of the federal investigation on condition of anonymity.
Mr Giuliani himself was also the focus of a criminal investigation in New York over his business in Ukraine, including his efforts to oust the American ambassador to the country that was the focus of impeachment proceedings. And the Pittsburgh investigation appeared to be parallel to the existing Delaware investigation.
Mr. Brady has made no criminal charges, and Mr. Barr has not publicly discussed the status of the investigation since he announced in February that the division would accept Mr. Giuliani’s material.
Hunter Biden announced this week that the Delaware Attorney’s Office continued to investigate him for possible federal tax crimes and served several subpoenas on Mr. Biden and his business associates Tuesday after they appeared to have been dormant in the run-up to the election. The investigation appeared to focus on his dealings with China and with Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board he served, according to people familiar with the matter.
Legal experts said prosecutors could look into how Mr Biden received the money to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax liens this year.
The elected president will not be investigated. But disclosure of a criminal investigation into his son placed Mr Biden on charges as he prepares for office. Republican senators called for an independent special adviser to investigate Hunter Biden and Mr. Trump complained that the Delaware investigation did not show up until the election.
“I’m proud of my son,” Biden told reporters on Friday.
The F.B.I. and the Justice Department declined to comment. Mr Giuliani did not respond to a request for comment.
In 2018 the F.B.I. and the US law firm in Wilmington, Delaware, began a silent investigation into whether Hunter Biden had allegedly violated money laundering laws, according to anyone with knowledge of the investigation.
Investigators eventually determined that the money laundering aspect of the Hunter Biden investigation would not lead to charges. However, they had discovered potential tax violations and felt they had what it takes to launch a strong tax lawsuit against him, according to several people familiar with the matter. The investigation concerned I.R.S. Agents.
Separately, Mr Giuliani was gathering information in Ukraine that could benefit Mr Trump by hurting his perceived rivals, including Mr Biden. Mr Giuliani had tried to promote the review of Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma, which was embroiled in a corruption scandal. He accused Joseph R. Biden Jr. of corruptly pushing for the overthrow of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, who was investigating Burisma, as a favor for his son when he was vice president. There is no evidence of misconduct by the elected president.
Mr Trump’s pressure campaign against the Ukrainian government to announce investigations that could help him politically was at the center of his impeachment. Mr Giuliani, during his impeachment, attempted to equate his allegations against Hunter Biden with allegations that Mr Trump had abused his power.
He also continued his campaign to advance any investigation that could benefit Mr. Trump by causing harm to his opponents. Mr. Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert J. Costello asked the Justice Department to meet to discuss what he thought was explosive information about Hunter Biden that he had gathered from people in Ukraine and elsewhere, said a person with direct knowledge of the matter.
In response, Mr. Brady called Mr. Costello and offered to meet. Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Costello sent tons of documents to Pittsburgh and then traveled there on January 29th. You were picked up by F.B.I. Agents and stopped for breakfast before settling down at the local F.B.I. for nearly four hours. Office with Mr. Brady and his senior deputies on the investigation, Stephen Kaufman and Ira Karoll, the person said.
Mr. Costello had several conversations with Mr. Brady’s office, including about the Bidens earlier this summer. Mr. Costello and Mr. Giuliani also recommended a handful of potential Witnesses in the United States and Ukraine for the F.B.I. interview, but Mr Costello told the F.B.I. never followed through.
“The choice of which US law firm investigates a matter is up to the Department of Justice, not the F.B.I.,” said Costello, adding that none of the F.B.I. or Mr. Brady’s office raised concerns about their material on the Bidens. “It is inappropriate for the F.B.I. to question the decision of the judiciary. “
At a press conference about a week after the meeting, Mr. Barr announced that he had set up an information intake process about Ukraine in order to “assess its origin and credibility”.
He didn’t mention Pittsburgh or the meeting. Mr Barr warned that investigators must be careful with information from Ukraine, including from Mr Giuliani. “There are many agendas in Ukraine, many counter-currents,” warned Barr. “And we cannot take anything we received from Ukraine at face value.”
It was not clear why Mr. Barr entrusted Mr. Brady with the job, but he has outsourced other politically sensitive investigations to trusted US attorneys outside Washington.
Investigators considered Mr. Barr’s decision to authorize Mr. Brady highly unusual, as the Delaware Attorney General had been investigating Hunter Biden for more than a year.
Colleagues saw Mr Brady, whom Mr Trump had nominated for the post in 2017, as a deeply partisan leader. As the assistant prosecutor 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 he returned to run the office, some prosecutors grumbled about his approach to law enforcement, including the investigation into Hunter Biden. Amid the dissatisfaction, Mr. Kaufman, the longtime prosecutor who served as his senior assistant, was marginalized after referring objections to Mr. Brady. Mr. Karoll, a young attorney who joined the office in 2017 from the Jones Day law firm, has been appointed.
The New York investigation into Mr. Giuliani too
create a potentially chaotic situation that could enable him to use the Pittsburgh work – and definitely his role as a potential witness – against a New York prosecution.
Federal law enforcement officers also feared that Mr Giuliani was providing the Justice Department with questionable information to make it appear more believable than it actually was. They said it was impossible to separate his efforts on behalf of the president from his crusades, and some staff said he could damage the department’s credibility by forcing investigators to investigate issues that were nothing more than conspiracy theories rails.
Officials said Mr Brady started taking aggressive steps almost immediately. He had a list of people he wanted F.B.I. Questioning agents. It was not clear if they were the same witnesses Mr Giuliani and Mr Costello had presented, but a former police officer said Mr Brady wanted the F.B.I. Interviewing individuals mentioned in Mr. Giuliani’s materials.
The steps were outside of “normal investigative processes,” said a former senior law enforcement officer, well aware of the events, particularly in an election year. Justice Department policies usually prohibit investigators from taking aggressive action prior to elections that could affect the outcome of the vote if they become public.
The Pittsburgh F.B.I. The office refused to comply without the consent of David L. Bowdich, the F.B.I.’s assistant director, the former official said.
Mr Brady’s demands soon led to a tense confrontation with F.B.I. Officials at the Washington office headquarters. The meeting was facilitated by Seth D. DuCharme, now acting US attorney in Brooklyn and at the time a trusted adjutant and ally of Mr. Barr at the Justice Department in Washington.
The F.B.I. considered the investigative steps against Mr. Biden, which Mr. Brady deemed unjustified because the Delaware money laundering investigation had stalled and because they were skeptical of Mr. Giuliani’s material. For example, they had already examined a Mr. Biden laptop and an external hard drive that had been abandoned at a computer store in Wilmington and found nothing to move the investigation forward.
Investigators also feared that the effort could become public – particularly interviews with witnesses who were Mr Giuliani’s sources of information – and the F.B.I. Back to the politics of the presidential campaign, the same tumultuous path it took in 2016 with an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and the Trump campaign’s links with Russia.
Even so, Mr. Brady pressed the F.B.I. to do more, officials said. The agents found ways to supposedly please Mr. Brady without interfering with the choice. It is not clear how they compromised, but the agents could have investigated more discreetly, such as interviewing witnesses who they believed would remain silent or checking databases.
The coverage was contributed by Rachel Shorey, Kenneth P. Vogel and Charlie Savage from Washington and William K. Rashbaum and Nicole Hong from New York.