Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden

A push by President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test 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 BidenBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Biden clarifies comments comparing African American and Latino communities Kanye West may have missed deadline to get on Wisconsin ballot by minutes: report 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 CornynSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Republicans uncomfortably playing defense Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill. 

Asked about Trump floating that the Bidens should testify, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus New polls show tight races for Graham, McConnell Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing 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 JohnsonGOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions Tensions flare as GOP's Biden probe ramps up  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 CramerThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: iBIO Chairman and CEO Thomas Isett says developing a safe vaccine is paramount; US surpasses 150,000 coronavirus deaths with roughy one death per minute McConnell tees up showdown on unemployment benefits Senate panel scraps confirmation hearing for controversial Pentagon nominee at last minute 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 PaulTrump-backed Hagerty wins Tennessee GOP Senate primary Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus 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 GiulianiGiuliani says Black Lives Matter is 'domestic terrorist' group Commission on Presidential Debates rejects Trump campaign call for earlier debate The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  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 ThuneThe Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Trump dismisses legal questions on GOP nomination speech at White House 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 BluntSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal GOP expects Senate to be in session next week without coronavirus deal House Republicans introduce legislation to give states 0 million for elections 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 RischSenators blast Turkey's move to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque Progressive group backs Democratic challenger to Sen. Risch Republicans start bracing for shutdown fight in run-up to election 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 TillisThe Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  Sabato's Crystal Ball shifts Iowa Senate race to 'toss-up,' Georgia toward GOP Obama announces first wave of 2020 endorsements 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 GrassleyMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe On The Money: Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions | Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs | Survey finds nearly one-third of rehired workers laid off again MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Finance Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration State Department offers M reward for foreign election interference information State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration 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.”