Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden

A push by President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE and conservatives to dig into Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine is running into stumbling blocks from an unusual corner: congressional Republicans.

Some Republicans believe Trump’s impeachment trial or a separate Senate committee inquiry could lay the groundwork for investigating former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report Sunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Trump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace' MORE and his son, who have both emerged as a fixation for Trump and his top allies as they look for a foothold in the impeachment battle.

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Trump escalated the effort on Thursday when he tweeted that the Bidens “must testify” — raising the specter that the president’s lawyers or GOP senators could try to drag them into the public impeachment trial.

“What did Hunter Biden do for the money?” @SenJohnKennedy  A very good question. He and Sleepy Joe must testify!” Trump tweeted.

But a push to focus on the Bidens as part of an impeachment trial quickly received a cool reception from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“His lawyers, I presume, can ask for any witnesses they want. But I think we ought to keep focus on the articles of impeachment and not go down any rabbit trails,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP senator: National shelter-in-place order would be an 'overreaction' Lawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Cuban says he'd spank daughter if she was partying during coronavirus pandemic MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill. 

Asked about Trump floating that the Bidens should testify, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham asks colleagues to support call for China to close wet markets Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Trump says he's considering restricting travel to coronavirus 'hot spots' MORE (R-S.C.) said he didn’t understand it as a "defense to the president.”

“We’ll make that decision, not the president,” Graham added.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRemembering Tom Coburn's quiet persistence Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner GOP seeks up to 0 billion to maximize financial help to airlines, other impacted industries MORE (R-Wis.), pressed about Hunter Biden being called to testify, replied: “I’m not sure what he would add.”

Trump’s public call for the Bidens to testify comes after days of chatter within the Senate Republican Conference about trying to use an impeachment trial or a potential separate Senate committee investigation to look into the Bidens.

Kennedy questioned how a Senate trial could examine whether Trump used Ukraine aid to try to pressure the country into investigating the Bidens without having Hunter Biden testify.

"I don't see how it is possible to litigate whether the president's behavior in asking for an investigation was appropriate without litigating whether he had a good faith basis for asking for that investigation,” Kennedy said. “Which means I don’t see how you could litigate this whole thing without litigating Hunter Biden’s involvement."

He added that he would be “very surprised” if Trump’s lawyers didn’t try to call Hunter Biden or hadn’t at least considered trying to call him. 

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) added that he would “love” to use an impeachment trial to get the Bidens to testify. Meanwhile, Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerInfrastructure bill gains new steam as coronavirus worsens GOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC GOP senator apologizes for tweet calling Pelosi 'retarded,' blames autocorrect MORE (R-N.D.) said that it would be “preferable” for Hunter Biden to testify as part of a separate committee and that “it seems difficult to avoid bringing him to testify.”

“If that’s the hinge pin of impeachment, then that’s the hinge pin of impeachment,” he added.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGeorgia governor says he didn't know asymptomatic people could spread coronavirus McConnell: Impeachment distracted government from coronavirus threat Warren knocks McConnell for forcing in-person Senate vote amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (R-Ky.) warned that he might vote against a resolution on impeachment trial rules if it limited the ability for Trump’s team to call witnesses.

"I'm all in favor of the president calling Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and the whistleblower,” Paul said. “I'd advise Republicans not to participate in anything that doesn't allow defense witnesses.”

Trump and his allies have latched onto Biden’s connection to Ukraine as the former vice president seeks the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in 2020.

Hunter Biden worked on the board of a natural gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch while his father served as vice president. Joe Biden pushed in 2016 for the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor who had been accused of overlooking corruption in his own office, threatening to withhold money if the prosecutor was not fired.

There’s no indication Joe Biden was acting with his son’s interests in mind, and the former vice president has denied any such motivations. But Trump and his allies, including his personal attorney Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiSunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Biden campaign blasts Twitter for refusing to sanction retaliatory 'hoax' Trump ad Google to spend .5 million in fight against coronavirus misinformation MORE, have pushed for an investigation into the Bidens and decried the former vice president as “corrupt.”

Other GOP senators poured cold water on talk of calling the Bidens, arguing it was “premature” to talk about impeachment trial witnesses when the House hasn’t yet passed articles of impeachment.

The House has been wading deeper into its impeachment inquiry, which is focused on Trump asking Ukraine to “look into” the Bidens. Lawmakers are also investigating if Trump held up aid to Ukraine unless the country opened an investigation.

“I think at this point all that’s premature,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. “I know some of our members are throwing some ideas and suggestions out there, but I think at this point it’s all kind of hypothetical.”

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike MORE (R-Mo.), when asked about Trump’s tweet, added that he broadly thought the president and House Republicans should be allowed to ask that witnesses be called, while adding, “We’re way ahead of ourselves on the Senate trial.”

Short of trying to have the Bidens testify as part of an impeachment trial, some GOP senators are urging Senate committee chairmen to launch an investigation, but those efforts are yielding mixed results.

Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, initially invited Giuliani to testify before his panel about corruption in Ukraine, a move that would have provided Giuliani a venue for publicly laying out his allegations against the Bidens.

But Graham said he doubted he would be able to get Giuliani to testify and is instead urging the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to probe ties between Ukraine and Biden, including calling in State Department officials.

“Did Joe Biden inappropriately ask the Ukrainian prosecutor to be fired because he was investigating a company that his son was on board of? ... I think the Foreign Relations Committee would be the ones to engage in that,” Graham said.

But Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischTensions boil over on Senate floor amid coronavirus debate  Overnight Defense: Pentagon confirms Iran behind recent rocket attack | Esper says 'all options on the table' | Military restricts service member travel over coronavirus Graham warns of 'aggressive' response to Iran-backed rocket attack that killed US troops MORE (R-Idaho) has put any Ukraine-related hearings on hold until after the House impeachment inquiry wraps up.

Asked about Graham’s request, he pointed to a letter he sent in late October to Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the panel, noting that the Ukraine issue was “deeply intertwined” with the House inquiry.

“Due to the ongoing House impeachment inquiry, I believe it would be more appropriate for our committee to wait on examining these matters until after the House completes its process (one way or another)," he wrote. "At the appropriate time, we will look into these matters in greater detail in consultation with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”

Kennedy, a member of Graham’s panel, was skeptical that Hunter Biden would be called before a Senate panel, saying, “I doubt that will happen.”

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisNorth Carolina Senate race emerges as 2020 bellwether The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina emerges as key battleground for Senate control Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE (R-N.C.) said there were “legitimate questions” about Hunter Biden’s employment at Burisma Holdings but “whether or not that rises to a level of a Senate venue for doing it, I’m not really sure.”

The most likely panel, at the moment, to dig into the Bidens is Johnson’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Johnson and Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyBurr says intelligence watchdog should be 'independent' after inspector general firing Lawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Finance Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump says 40,000 Americans have been repatriated who were stranded abroad US should adopt a Marshall Plan for Ethiopia Tired of worrying about the pandemic? There's always Pyongyang MORE on Wednesday asking the department to hand over any records tied to the Bidens or Burisma.

But Johnson stopped short of saying he would try to call Hunter Biden before his committee, noting he’s tried to avoid “show trials.”

“There’s an awful lot of questions that need to be answered,” he said. “I am just trying to tenaciously gather information.”