A top Senate Republican abruptly canceled plans to subpoena records and testimony from an official connected to a Ukrainian firm that once employed the son of former vice president Joe Biden.
The decision by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, comes as Democrats have attacked the probe as politically motivated, especially as Biden surges in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and the chance to face President Trump. Some have warned it could play into Russian efforts to spread disinformation ahead of the presidential election in November.
In a message Wednesday to members of the panel, sent roughly an hour before a planned vote, Johnson said he would indefinitely postpone the subpoena for documents and testimony from Andrii Telizhenko, a Ukrainian national who worked for a U.S. lobbying firm that acted on behalf of Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company that employed Hunter Biden as a board member.
Johnson said he was doing so “[o]ut of an abundance of caution and to allow time for [senators] to receive additional briefings.”
But Johnson indicated that the investigation would continue. He said in an interview Wednesday that he would instead seek to directly subpoena the lobbying firm, Blue Star Strategies.
“My concern is they have not been cooperative,” he said. “If we can get all the records, get all the answers, that’s great. If not, we’re going to have to continue and use other measures.”
While Johnson said he withdrew plans for the Telizhenko subpoena to win bipartisan support for his probe, the bigger issue may have been qualms among his fellow Republicans.
Two GOP panel members, Mitt Romney of Utah and Rob Portman of Ohio, signaled discomfort with the subpoena. Romney, after initially criticizing the appearance that the probe was politically motivated, announced last week he would vote for the subpoena. Portman privately expressed concerns about the reliability of any information Telizhenko might share.
Portman declined to answer when asked whether he withheld his vote for the Telizhenko subpoena, forcing Johnson to change course. “I think he’s made the right decision,” he said.
Romney also praised the move: “I applaud his decision to take a close look at this and to see if we could find a proposal that meets with the support of both parties.”
Asked whether he had the votes to move forward with the Telizhenko subpoena, Johnson said, “Yes, at some point.”
“It is what it is,” he added. “We will continue to iron out the discrepancies that were raised over the last couple days, and I can’t really get into much more than that.”
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the committee, had called for additional intelligence and law enforcement briefings for panel members on, among other things, whether pursuing investigations of the Bidens and Burisma was assisting the ongoing Russian campaign to interfere in Western elections.
“I appreciate the chairman’s willingness to work with me and all of our committee members regarding significant concerns about foreign election interference,” Peters said. “I look forward to working with Chairman Johnson to get these intelligence community briefings for our committee members. In the meantime, our committee should focus on addressing pressing threats like coronavirus to keep Americans safe.”
Peters and the panel’s other Democrats objected to the Telizhenko subpoena, forcing the planned vote Wednesday.
Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma, earning significant pay, at a time when his father was acting on behalf of the Obama administration to combat corruption in Ukraine. But no evidence has emerged to suggest that Joe Biden acted in his family’s interest in that capacity.
The investigation is already playing a role in the presidential campaign — barely a month after the Republican-led Senate acquitted Trump on impeachment charges based on his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
The pro-Trump Great America super PAC on Wednesday launched a digital ad campaign attacking Joe Biden, a day after he solidified his status as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination by winning primaries in Michigan and several other states.
“Why is the U.S. Senate investigating Joe Biden’s family?” the ad asks, answering the question with a thinly sourced case that Biden acted to benefit his son and calling him “Quid Pro Quo Joe.”