By Annie Grayer and Jeremy Herb, CNN
(CNN) — The FBI agent managing the team on the Hunter Biden criminal case testified to the House Judiciary Committee that US Attorney David Weiss had ultimate authority over the case, contesting testimony brought forward by whistleblowers.
Thomas Sobocinski, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore field office, told committee investigators in a closed-door interview last week that from his perspective, Weiss had the authority to bring forward whatever charges he wanted in whatever venue he preferred.
“It was my understanding that David Weiss had the authority, and at no point did I ever differ from that,” Sobociniski said, according to a copy of his interview transcript obtained by CNN. “There’s never been anything in my view that changed that.”
Sobocinski’s transcript, which was first reported by The Washington Post, comes as House Republicans continue to investigate allegations that the criminal case of President Joe Biden’s son was mishandled. It’s all part of the House GOP impeachment inquiry into the president, even though Republicans have yet to find evidence that the president did anything illegal.
Sobocinski’s testimony disputes a number of claims from an Internal Revenue Service whistleblower about a key October 2022 meeting including FBI and IRS agents, Weiss, and other Justice Department prosecutors that occurred at a critical point in the criminal probe. IRS whistleblower Gary Shapley, who was in the meeting and worked on this case, said Weiss revealed in that meeting that he is not the deciding person on whether charges are filed. Shapley provided his notes on that meeting and email exchanges about it to Congress to support his claim. The notes say, “Weiss stated – He is not the deciding person.”
But Sobocinski was also in that October 2022 meeting and said Weiss never said that.
“I went into that meeting believing he had the authority, and I have left that meeting believing he had the authority to bring charges,” Sobocinski testified.
Reflecting on Shapley’s accusation of Weiss, Sobocinski said, “In my recollection, if he would have said that, I would have remembered it.”
In a letter to the House Judiciary Committee responding to Sobocinski’s testimony, Shapley’s legal team contested Sobocinski’s testimony, noting that Shapley took notes of the October 2022 meeting while Sobocinski did not.
“Mr. Sobocinski apparently acknowledged that he took no notes in the meeting, nor did he document it in any contemporaneous fashion afterwards,” wrote Empower Oversight President Tristan Leavitt and attorney Mark Lytle, according to the letter obtained by CNN. “By contrast, SSA Shapley took notes during the meeting. These notes, combined with his fresh memory of the meeting, formed the basis for the email he sent later that day and corroborate his current recollection.”
House Republicans responded to the comments saying that the whistleblowers, Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, a 13-year IRS special agent with the Criminal Investigation Division, were “wholly consistent.”
“Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler have been wholly consistent throughout their disclosures to Congress, and the only people who haven’t are people like David Weiss, Merrick Garland, and their liberal cronies,” said Russell Dye, a spokesperson for Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican.
Sobocinski also disputed Shapley’s claim that Weiss said in the October 2022 meeting he was denied special counsel status and denied venues to bring forward charges.
Sobocinski told the House Judiciary panel he was informed of Weiss’ special counsel status the day Attorney General Merrick Garland announced it last month, and that Weiss was not previously denied special counsel status as Shapley has claimed.
“I don’t have a recollection with him saying that there or at any point in my communication with Mr. Weiss,” Sobocinski said. “That would have been a total 180 from all our previous conversations about authorities.”
When asked if anybody at FBI headquarters ever prevented Weiss from taking any steps or accessing any necessary resources, Sobocinski replied, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Sobocinski told congressional investigators that he did raise concerns repeatedly about the pace of the investigation into Hunter Biden.
“I would have liked for it to move faster,” he said.
Republicans on the committee raised the question of why Weiss was eventually given special counsel status if Weiss had the ultimate authority as Sobocinski has argued. Sobocinski acknowledged that Weiss would be the best person to answer these questions, and more specifics about how special counsel status was granted.
On whether Weiss was denied venues to bring forward charges against the president’s son, Sobocinski said he only had “high-level conversations” about the specific charges, but from his understanding “there was a process” within the Justice Department for US attorneys to bring forward charges outside of their district that involved a lot of “bureaucracy” but was “not a permission issue.”
“Without going into specifics, there were discussion about taxes and venue,” Sobocinski said. “And, once again, Mr. Weiss had the authority to bring it.”
Shapley’s notes on the October 2022 meeting included that an FBI agent asked the group if they were concerned about the investigation being politicized. Sobocinski noted that part of why the meeting was called was in response to a media leak about the status of the criminal investigation. He told congressional investigators that he wanted to ask anyone in the room if they felt the investigation into the president’s son had been politicized, and he said no one in the room, not even Shapley, raised any concerns.
“I wanted to go on record in the room of the leaders who were involved in this investigation,” Sobocinski said. “Thought that it was no, and nobody in that room raised their voice to say anything other.”
Sobocinski also addressed broader claims made about how the Hunter Biden criminal investigation has been handled. To discredit GOP claims that prosecutors colluded with Hunter Biden’s Secret Service by informing them they wanted to interview Hunter, Sobocinski said that as a former Secret Service agent, he said it was “expected” for an investigative entity to speak with him ahead of interviewing a protectee of his. Sobocinski also said he is not aware of any evidence that the Department of Justice has retaliated against the IRS whistleblowers who have come forward.
The Department of Justice sent Sobocinski a letter the day before his interview giving him permission to discuss the details of the October 7, 2022, meeting and Weiss’ authority on the case. But Sobocinski was not permitted to discuss the ongoing criminal investigation.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
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CNN’s Kara Scannell contributed to this report.