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Push to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war

Push to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war
© Greg Nash

A push by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE and his allies to investigate the Bidens has set off a horse race among high-profile Senate chairmen.

It’s spawned two competing probes in the upper chamber: Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGrassley returns to Capitol after having coronavirus McConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection MORE (R-Wis.) and Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyCriminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot Capitol physician advises lawmakers against attending dinners, receptions during COVID-19 spike Congress ends its year under shadow of COVID-19 MORE (R-Iowa) are weeks into their own wide-ranging investigation that includes the Bidens and Ukraine while Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel Democracy is the MVP in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms MORE (R-S.C.) is suggesting he’ll run a separate review out of the Judiciary Committee.  

But the two groups aren’t coordinating their efforts, according to senators, setting up the potential for jurisdictional clashes as they both move forward. 

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Asked about the looming turf war, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcCaskill: 'Hypocrisy' for GOP to target Biden nominee's tweets after Trump Former Senate hopeful auctioning off Harley-Davidson featured prominently in her campaign ads The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee, joked that “you’re suggesting this is an organized activity.” 

“They’ve got a lot of free agents, and they’re entitled in their own right as a senator to ask for information, but it would be nice to have a little more organized, but so be it,” he added. 

The president and some of his closest allies have pressed for an investigation into Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma, a Ukraine gas company, and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump Cruz urges Supreme Court to take up Pennsylvania election challenge MORE’s effort to oust a Ukrainian prosecutor. 

The decision to launch an investigation was a role reversal for Graham, who had previously argued the Foreign Relations Committee, not his Judiciary Committee, had jurisdiction for the probe.

Pressed about his decision to reverse course and open his own investigation, Graham said lawmakers should be trying to “just ask questions,” regardless of who is asking them. 

"You've got Johnson and Grassley asking questions, I'm asking questions and I think Foreign Relations has jurisdiction here also,” Graham said.

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“If nothing happened bad, that’s fine. I hope not. I don’t know what the phone calls were about after the raid, but I think that would be a good place to start,” Graham continued, referring to alleged phone calls between Biden and former Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko after a raid on Burisma’s owner. 

Graham, asked if they should be coordinating their investigations, added with a laugh: "I think so, I think we should be.”

There’s already been early overlap between the two groups. 

Grassley and Johnson, for example, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSchumer meets with Biden national security picks To promote human rights and democracy, Biden should start with China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - GOP angst in Georgia; confirmation fight looms MORE in early November asking for any State Department records involving Hunter Biden and Burisma Holdings. They also want to know if the office of Legal Advisor or the department's inspector general were consulted about potential conflicts of interests stemming from Hunter Biden’s work.

Graham, in a similar move, then sent a letter in late November to Pompeo asking for documents tied to the Bidens and Ukraine to assist in “answering questions regarding allegations that Vice President Biden played a role in the termination of Prosecutor General [Viktor] Shokin in an effort to end the investigation of the company employing his son." 

It’s hardly the first time multiple Senate committee chairmen have been interested in investigating the same subject. In 2017, the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees were locked in a turf battle over competing probes into the 2016 White House race, ties between President Trump’s team and Moscow, and former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyCarter Page sues over surveillance related to Russia probe Top Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon The new marshmallow media in the Biden era MORE’s firing. 

In that instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Criminal justice groups offer support for Durbin amid fight for Judiciary spot MORE (R-Ky.) tasked the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. He also tapped the panel to handle any review of a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s actions to Ukraine that have fed the House impeachment inquiry. 

Johnson told The Hill that there’s been no guidance from leadership on jurisdictional boundaries or direction for any panel to investigate.

“Nobody has tried to either spur us on or slow us down,” he said. 

The silence from leadership comes as 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 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 doing so. 

A bipartisan group of senators, in a publicly released letter in 2016, urged Poroshenko to make "urgent reforms" to the prosecutor general's office. 

Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerGOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports Live coverage: Senators enter second day of questions in impeachment trial MORE, the former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, also told House lawmakers last month during his closed-door deposition as part of the impeachment inquiry that Biden "was representing U.S. policy at the time."

But that’s done little to stop the investigations on Capitol Hill.

Johnson warned that having additional Senate offices try to investigate the same issue “just adds a level of complexity, another layer of review.” 

“It makes it way more complicated the more people you get involved, it just does. It just slows the process down,” Johnson said.

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Johnson, who oversees the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, noted that he’s successfully coordinated with Grassley, a member of the Judiciary Committee and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and come up with an “efficient” system between the two of them. 

The two have fired off a flurry of letters as they look into Obama-era scandals, ranging from defensive briefings during the 2016 election to the Bidens and Ukraine. The two, according to Johnson, are poised to start doing closed-door interviews “pretty soon.” 

Johnson added that he hopes Graham joins their efforts, and that they start coordinating soon. 

“Obviously the people signing the letters are the ones who we’re working with ... but hopefully we’ll coordinate all those efforts shortly,” Johnson said. 

He added that, “I think you’re going to start seeing, you know, Senator Graham become a part of that effort as well.”