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 TrumpMajority of Americans in new poll say it would be bad for the country if Trump ran in 2024 ,800 bottle of whiskey given to Pompeo by Japan is missing Liz Cheney says her father is 'deeply troubled' about the state of the Republican Party 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 JohnsonSenate rejects GOP effort to add Trump border wall to bipartisan infrastructure deal Johnson suggests FBI knew more about Jan. 6 planning than has been revealed: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - White House, Dems play blame game over evictions MORE (R-Wis.) and Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyKaine says he has votes to pass Iraq War repeal in Senate Biden's ATF nominee on shaky ground in Senate Axne endorses Finkenauer Senate bid in Iowa MORE (R-Iowa) are weeks into their own wide-ranging investigation that includes the Bidens and Ukraine while Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin Graham19 House Democrats call on Capitol physician to mandate vaccines The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Simone wins bronze with altered beam routine The job of shielding journalists is not finished 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 CornynWhite House trying to beat back bipartisan Cornyn infrastructure amendment Senate GOP shifts focus to fight over Biden's .5 trillion budget McConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal 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 Biden’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 PompeoMike Pompeo,800 bottle of whiskey given to Pompeo by Japan is missing Noem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis 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 BidenJoe BidenBiden nominates Mark Brzezinski to be U.S. ambassador to Poland 10 dead after overloaded van crashes in south Texas Majority of New York state Assembly support beginning process to impeach Cuomo: AP MORE 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 ComeyBiden sister has book deal, set to publish in April Mystery surrounds Justice's pledge on journalist records NYT publisher: DOJ phone records seizure a 'dangerous incursion' on press freedom MORE’s firing. 

In that instance, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Trump asks court to block release of tax returns to Congress | Private sector adds 330K jobs in July, well short of expectations Senate panel advances first three spending bills McConnell lays out GOP demands for government-funding deal 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 VolkerCNN obtains audio of 2019 Giuliani call linked to Ukraine meddling allegations GOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports 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.”