Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) canceled a vote scheduled for Wednesday afternoon on a subpoena stemming from his months-long probe into Hunter Biden and Burisma Holdings.
“Out of an abundance of caution, and to allow time for you to receive additional briefings, I will postpone a vote to subpoena records and an appearance from former Blue Star Strategies consultant Andrii Telizhenko about his work for the lobbying firm,” Johnson said in a note to committee members, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill.
Johnson told reporters that he was pulling the vote because of “some discrepancies brought up in what we had been told.”
“There were issues raised,” Johnson said. “There were discrepancies in what had been told in one briefing versus the next briefing, and then even greater discrepancies in staff notes.”
The committee had been poised to vote Wednesday afternoon to subpoena Telizhenko for documents and an interview. Johnson characterized him as willing to participate with the committee’s investigation but currently he is barred by a nondisclosure agreement.
Johnson’s decision to move forward with the subpoena vote, over the objections of Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) had sparked days of high-profile tensions, with Democrats viewing the subpoena as an attempt to target former Vice President Joe Biden that might also inadvertently help spread Russian misinformation.
The subpoena vote had been expected to pass along party lines — a high-profile break with how Senate committees have exercised their subpoena powers in recent years.
“Ron Johnson is turning the Homeland Security Committee into an instrument of Russian disinformation,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) tweeted this week.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) also appeared to knock Johnson in a letter to four inspectors general on Wednesday, asking to investigate if their respective agencies were “choosing to comply with requests that are designed to damage the president’s political opponents,” while ignoring other requests for information from Congress.
Instead of subpoenaing Telizhenko, Johnson indicated that he would instead target Blue Star Strategies, which has ties to Burisma.
“While we work through those questions, at the suggestion of both Republican and Democrat Committee members, we will instead go straight to the source and compel the same records and an appearance directly from Blue Star Strategies,” Johnson added in the message to committee members.
Johnson told reporters Wednesday that he would subpoena Blue Star Strategies, a decision he hoped could win over Peters’s support. If Johnson has to force a committee vote, which would be sparked if Peters objects, the GOP senator indicated that was unlikely to happen this week.
“You do need to provide proper notice,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t want to give them [Blue Star] any excuse to say ‘we didn’t get proper notice.’ “
Johnson and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Finance Committee, are months into a broad investigation, part of which touches on Hunter Biden’s work on the board of Burisma. In a letter sent earlier this year to the U.S. Secret Service, they said they were also “reviewing potential conflicts of interest posed by the business activities of Hunter Biden and his associates during the Obama administration.”
The probe comes as Republicans have seized on a discredited narrative that suggested Joe Biden tried to remove Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in an effort to protect his son. No evidence has indicated that either of the Bidens engaged in criminal wrongdoing, and there was widespread concern at the time — both internationally and from a bipartisan coalition in Congress, including Johnson — about corruption within Shokin’s office.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden’s campaign, argued that Johnson should be using his committee to focus on the coronavirus instead of probing Hunter Biden and Burisma.
“It is alarming and deeply troubling that Senator Johnson is diverting the attention and taxpayer-funded resources of the Senate Homeland Security Committee away from the coronavirus outbreak, which was just designated a global pandemic, to clutch at a conspiracy theory that every fact-checker has debunked,” Bates said.
“In fact, Senator Johnson himself, joined by other Republicans, endorsed Joe Biden’s work to get this corrupt prosecutor fired and signed a letter supporting that effort in 2015. He has as much credibility on this issue as Bernie Madoff did on pension funds,” he added.
Updated at 4:52 p.m.