Senate

Tensions flare over GOP's Obama probes

Tensions are flaring in the Senate as Republicans prepare to ramp up their investigations into Obama-era officials.

Amid public and private pressure from President Trump, GOP senators are increasingly embracing calls to use their congressional power to investigate some of Trump's biggest grievances stemming from the Obama administration, including the origins of the Russia investigation, the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Hunter Biden.

Democrats argue Republicans are using their committee gavels to probe Trump's political enemies, an effort they say is designed to hunt for political fodder against former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, while inadvertently spreading Russian misinformation.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) railed against Republicans, saying they were chasing a "wild conspiracy theory."

"Senate Republicans are diving head-first into the muck to smear the family - the family - of the president's political opponent. It is such a gross misuse of the power of the majority," Schumer added.

Those frustrations are poised to come to a head as two committee chairmen - Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) - have vowed to hold votes on subpoenas as part of their investigations over the objections of Democrats.

Graham is asking for the Judiciary Committee to vote to give him broad subpoena authority to call dozens of officials to testify, either in depositions or hearings, as part of his investigation into the FISA court and "Crossfire Hurricane," the name of the FBI's investigation into Russia's election meddling and the 2016 Trump campaign.

"We're going to investigate the investigators, and try to find out how Crossfire Hurricane got off the rails," Graham said.

The subpoena will be on the committee's agenda Thursday, but the vote is expected to take place on June 4. Under a timeline outlined by Graham, he would release a report on his findings by October, saying he wants "to do it before the election."

"I want to get all the information out there. ... I'm trying to explain to the American people what happened with Crossfire Hurricane," Graham said when asked if releasing a report in October would look like he was trying to influence the November election.

Meanwhile, Johnson will hold a vote on his own subpoena as part of an investigation into Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, and Burisma Holdings.

Johnson is set to have the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee vote on Wednesday on subpoenaing Blue Star Strategies, a firm with ties to Burisma.

The subpoena vote is just one part of a wide-ranging, and controversial, investigation Johnson is conducting with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to look into potential wrongdoing or conflicts of interest during the Obama administration. Though Trump has floated the discredited narrative that Joe Biden tried to remove Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin to protect his son, there was bipartisan concern about Shokin at the time and no evidence has emerged to indicate the Bidens engaged in criminal wrongdoing.

Johnson and Grassley on Tuesday also released the declassified version of an email former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice sent regarding a January 2017 Oval Office meeting where the Russia investigation was discussed before Trump was sworn in.

The letter marked the latest move over the past few weeks in which the two GOP chairmen, aided by Trump administration officials, have secured and released long sought-after information.

Those high-profile steps have left Democrats fuming, arguing that Republicans are pursuing political probes amid a global health crisis.

"What a disappointment. To think that this great Senate Judiciary Committee has been absent without leave throughout this whole controversy involving the coronavirus, and is now going to revert to a cheap political trick just months before the election," said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat. "I'm sorry that Sen. Graham decided to choose this path."

Asked if there were any Republicans who would not support the subpoena, Durbin responded, "That would be a real shock and surprise."

Democrats, under both the rules of the Judiciary and Homeland Security panels, could try to skip the meetings and deny Republicans a quorum necessary to carry out the votes, though there would be nothing to stop Republicans from retaliating and changing the committee rules.

Durbin, when asked about the tactic, indicated he thought Graham would try to move forward even if Democrats were not present, saying "we've learned the hard way that it makes no difference."

Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, added that Democrats will attend Wednesday's subpoena vote.

"I'll be there. We'll be there. It's just unfortunate that we have to be there. We should be dealing with the COVID crisis ... not with this issue," he said.

The looming fight comes as Trump has railed for years that his campaign was "spied" upon and increasingly urged Republicans to use the Senate to dig into the Obama-era decisions ahead of the November election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) notably embraced the idea of subpoenaing Obama-era officials on Tuesday, while noting that Graham will have "ball control."

"Senate Republicans are taking steps to issue new subpoenas to a wide variety of Obama administration officials," McConnell said. "The American people deserve answers about how such abuses could happen. And we intend to get those answers."

Republicans hold a majority on both committees, meaning if they stick together, Johnson and Graham could issue the subpoenas over Democratic objections.

Trump raised the investigations during a closed-door GOP lunch Tuesday, urging Republicans to be "tough" on Democrats, citing what he has called Obamagate.

"We talked about the investigations into Russian involvement in the 2016 election and his concerns ... about using the institutions like the FBI and the DOJ and others to undermine an incoming president," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who noted that he will support Graham's subpoena request.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) added that "the president said that on the issue of Crossfire Hurricane and FISA abuse that we've been acting like a bunch of weenies."

Graham denied that he was moving forward with his subpoena request in response to Trump publicly urging him in a tweet to call former President Obama to testify - a request the GOP senator rebuffed. Graham added that he hadn't discussed a specific timeline with Trump, but told him they are going to do a "deep dive" and that "some of it may be bad for him."

"I've been planning this for weeks. We've already interviewed the people," Graham said. "We've been planning this for a long time."

Outbrain