GOP duo moves ahead with Biden investigation
A pair of influential GOP Senate chairmen are plowing ahead with a wide-ranging probe related to the Bidens and Ukraine, sparking a new round of tensions..
With the months-long impeachment fight in the rearview mirror, Republicans are hoping to speed up their investigation, which has included document requests related to work done by former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden for Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), one of the two GOP chairmen involved in the investigation, said he hoped the end of the impeachment trial would break the “logjam” on their requests for information.
“It doesn’t surprise me that the administration basically kind of put a hold on just about everything until we got by impeachment. … We’re in contact with the administration and with those departments, and they are telling us that they’ve got responsive documents,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who chair the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Finance committees, respectively, have sent a flurry of letters digging into potential wrongdoing stemming from the Obama administration.
Their latest, sent minutes after the impeachment trial ended, asked for specifics on the travel detail Hunter Biden used when his father was vice president. The two chairmen told the Secret Service that they were “reviewing potential conflicts of interest posed by the business activities of Hunter Biden and his associates during the Obama administration.”
How quickly the two could move is unclear. The Treasury Department has already started handing over documents, while the State Department and the National Archives have said they have documents responsive to letters sent by Grassley and Johnson. Looming over the timeline for a probe is the 2020 election, in which Biden is fighting for the Democratic nomination.
“I hope we have the information way before the election. Some of these things might be some loose ends that could be tied up pretty quickly,” Johnson said.
Trump and his GOP allies have sought to tie Joe Biden’s push in 2016 for the dismissal of Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin to Hunter Biden’s business interests. They’ve also argued that allowing Biden to work on Ukraine policy while his son was on the board of Burisma was a conflict of interest.
Fact-checkers have debunked claims that Joe Biden was acting with his son’s interest in mind and there’s no evidence that either Biden engaged in any criminal wrongdoing.
The decision to push forward comes even as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who previously pledged to do “oversight” of the Bidens, seems newly wary about the reliability of information from Ukraine, saying he doesn’t want to be the “Republican Christopher Steele.”
“What I will do is I will get to the bottom of how the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant system failed and make sure we reform it, doesn’t happen again,” Graham said during an interview with CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”
But Graham also added that “questions about the conflict of interest regarding Hunter Biden in the Ukraine need to be asked.”
Grassley and Johnson argue that their investigations are not being driven by the fact that Joe Biden is competing for the 2020 Democratic White House nomination.
Asked if he would continue the investigation if Biden dropped out of the race, Grassley said that he and other Republicans were raising “questions” before Biden entered in the race in April 2019.
“This started before … Biden was a candidate. We didn’t send the letters, but in regard to a lot of this stuff we were raising these questions,” Grassley said.
Johnson added that “my efforts are not targeted toward Joe and Hunter Biden.”
“They’re obviously part of it. But this is potential DNC [Democratic National Committee], but this is also FBI and FISA abuse,” Johnson said, when asked if he thought the investigation would still be worthwhile if Biden was not running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
That’s done little to tamp down renewed tensions — including a days-long back and forth with a top Democrat — even as the Senate is trying to move on from the weeks-long impeachment fight that strained the Senate’s collegial atmosphere.
“I’m not surprised. How many investigations of Hillary Clinton did they initiate when she was a would-be candidate for president? It’s what they do,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat.
Asked about the GOP claims that the investigation wasn’t tied to Biden’s presidential prospects, he added, “I like Chuck Grassley, but I don’t believe it.”
The Treasury Department is complying with a request for information from Grassley and Johnson — a disclosure that came not from either of the GOP senators but rather from Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden’s (Ore.) office.
GOP staffers are also indicating they expect a “voluminous production of records” regarding the GOP request for information related to Hunter Biden and Burisma, according to a letter Wyden sent to the State Department on Tuesday.
The disclosure from Wyden’s office about the Treasury Department’s cooperation has sparked a days-long spat between the top Finance Committee Democrat, Johnson and Grassley.
Wyden sent his own letter to the State Department on Tuesday raising concerns that the documents State turns over to Grassley and Johnson could create an “incomplete and biased record” of the department’s actions in Ukraine. He requested any documents tied to a slew of officials including Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney.
Wyden’s actions have publicly frustrated Republicans, with Johnson and Grassley accusing him of “selective leaks” to try to undermine the GOP investigation. Though Wyden’s office disclosed that the Treasury Department was complying with the GOP information request, they did not disclose the substance of the documents.
“I was struck by the claim on Friday night that in effect they were sharing the information of the heart, when they’re required to do so,” Wyden said when asked about the GOP investigation. “I think nothing could illustrate the political nature of this Trump matter better than that.”
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