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Senate Republicans issue first subpoena in Biden-Burisma probe

Senate Republicans issued their first subpoena on Wednesday as part of wide-ranging investigations tied to the Obama administration, deepening a battle in Congress with implications for this fall's presidential race.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted along party lines to issue a subpoena for Blue Star Strategies, a firm with ties to Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLoeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Wis.), the chairman of the panel, has homed in on the U.S. firm as he probes Hunter Biden's work for Burisma Holdings, where Biden — the son of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' MORE — was a member of the board until he stepped down in 2019.

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The subpoena asks for records from Blue Star Strategies from Jan. 1, 2013, to the present "related to work for or on behalf of Burisma Holdings or individuals associated with Burisma."

Johnson is also requesting an interview with top Blue Star officials to discuss the subpoena.

Senate Democrats fumed over Johnson's decision to schedule the vote amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersRepublican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race Hillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff MORE (Mich.), the top Democrat on the panel, warned that the "extremely partisan investigation is pulling us apart." 

"This is not a serious bipartisan investigation in the tradition of this committee, and I do not believe we should be going down this road," Peters said during the committee meeting.

He tried to table the subpoena vote until the committee could get a closed-door briefing with FBI and intelligence community officials, but the move was blocked by Republicans. 

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"This is not my choice to spend any amount of time on this vote. I would have issued the subpoenas quietly," Johnson said.

He added that when the committee previously considered subpoenaing a former consultant for the firm there was a "bipartisan suggestion that if you want the records from Blue Star, why don't you just subpoena Blue Star? I said, so I will, so that's what we're doing here." 

Democrats have warned for weeks, both publicly and privately, that GOP senators are using the panel to target President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE's political rivals and potentially inadvertently spread Russian misinformation.

Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanCut tariffs and open US economy to fight COVID-19 pandemic Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities Overnight Defense: Trump campaign's use of military helicopter raises ethics concerns | Air Force jets intercept aircraft over Trump rally | Senators introduce bill to expand visa screenings MORE (D-N.H.) said Wednesday that Republicans were trying to investigate "partisan nonsense and conspiracy theories." 

"There is much urgent work for this committee and the Senate as a whole to carry out. This markup is not that work, to put it politely," Hassan said.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Mexican president breaks with other world leaders, refusing to acknowledge Biden win until election is finalized MORE (D-Calif.) added that Johnson had made a "unilateral" decision to pursue the subpoena.

"You made the decision to force a vote on a purely political matter that will do absolutely nothing for those at risk of contracting COVID-19," Harris said, calling the subpoena a "political sideshow." 

Democrats say that Blue Star was willing to comply with Johnson's request for documents without a subpoena — something Johnson disputed.

Karen Tramontano, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Blue Star Strategies, sent a letter to Johnson on Wednesday saying that they had been indicating to committee staff that they would cooperate.

"At every opportunity we have indicated to the committee that it is our intention to cooperate. At no time have we ever stated or indicated in any way that we would not cooperate. Therefore, we are puzzled, despite our willingness to cooperate, why the committee is proceeding to vote on a subpoena," she wrote.

A spokesman for Johnson said the firm "has delayed our efforts for more than five months," including not letting GOP staff speak with one of its attorneys.

"Their only real efforts came after we noticed this markup, and we know even those have been woefully incomplete," the spokesman said.

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Tensions flared in the committee on Wednesday as Johnson tried to move to the vote after allowing himself, Peters, Harris and Hassan to speak about the subpoena.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Kerry says Paris climate deal alone 'is not enough' | EPA halts planned Taiwan trip for Wheeler| EPA sued over rule extending life of toxic coal ash ponds Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline GSA transition delay 'poses serious risk' to Native Americans, Udall says MORE (D-Del.) then asked for five minutes to speak. Johnson said multiple times that he couldn't understand Carper, who then yelled, "I ask for unanimous consent to speak for five minutes, please."

Johnson then allowed Carper to speak, but warned that he would not get more than five minutes and told committee staff to "put the clock on."

Republicans hold an 8-6 majority on the panel, allowing them to issue the subpoena despite opposition from Democrats as long as every GOP senator supported the move.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Paul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism MORE (R-Utah), the party's 2012 presidential nominee, was considered a vote to watch because he had previously raised concerns about investigations that appear "political." 

But Johnson said shortly before the committee vote that he expected every Republican to support his subpoena.

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Romney told The Hill earlier this week that he was looking at Johnson's subpoena request. The Utah senator voted for the subpoena on Wednesday via proxy.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said he was supporting Johnson's investigation because "we needed to get to the truth about the Bidens' relationship with Burisma."

"These hearings will provide the Senate with the full picture," he added.

Trump and some of his allies have floated a discredited narrative that Joe Biden tried to remove Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin to protect his son. No evidence has indicated that either of the Bidens engaged in criminal wrongdoing, and there was widespread concern at the time — both internationally and from a bipartisan coalition in Congress — about corruption within Shokin's office.

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden's campaign, said Johnson is "running a political errand for Donald Trump" in the middle of the coronavirus health crisis, including trying to "resurrect a craven, previously debunked smear against Vice President Biden."

"Then again, this is consistent with how Senator Johnson has callously downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak while the death toll rises," Bates added. "Senator Johnson should be working overtime to save American lives — but instead he's just trying to save the President's job."

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Johnson is months into a probe with Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRep. Rick Allen tests positive for COVID-19 On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Loeffler to continue to self-isolate after conflicting COVID-19 test results MORE (R-Iowa) on the Bidens. They wrote in a request for information sent earlier this year that they were looking at “potential conflicts of interest posed by the business activities of Hunter Biden and his associates during the Obama administration."

Johnson said on Wednesday that he is still planning to issue a report on some of the findings soon.

“I'd like to get something out in the June time frame, personally, certainly before the August recess,” Johnson said. 

But the Biden-Burisma probe is just one part of wide-ranging investigations being run out of the Senate.

Amid public calls from Trump, Republicans are increasingly embracing using their majority to investigate some of the biggest grievances of the president and his allies, including the Bidens, the Russian interference investigation and the court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Trump, during a closed-door meeting Tuesday, urged Republicans to be “tough,” citing “Obamagate” — his unsubstantiated claim of crimes committed by the former president.

“The president said that on the issue of Crossfire Hurricane and FISA abuse that we’ve been acting like a bunch of weenies,” said Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) after the meeting.

Grassley and Johnson, with help from key administration officials, are also probing the investigation of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn after the Justice Department dropped its case against him.

And Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Spokesperson says Tennessee Democrat made 'poor analogy' in saying South Carolina voters have extra chromosome MORE (R-S.C.) is set to have the Judiciary Committee vote on June 4 to issue a wide-ranging subpoena for documents and interviews with dozens of officials, including former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon The new marshmallow media in the Biden era McCabe defends investigation of Trump before Senate committee: We had 'many reasons' MORE, former Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump turns his ire toward Cabinet members Ex-deputy attorney general says Justice Dept. 'will ignore' Trump's threats against political rivals The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House MORE and former Deputy Attorney General Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesClyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks Women set to take key roles in Biden administration MORE.

The tactics have fueled tensions with Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration Voters say Biden should make coronavirus vaccine a priority: poll New York City subway service could be slashed 40 percent, officials warn MORE (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday said Republicans were turning into the “conspiracy caucus.”

“They’re holding sham hearings about the family of the president’s political rivals. ... They’re turning Senate committee rooms into the studio of 'Fox & Friends,' ” Schumer said, adding that “Trump’s wild conspiracy theories has overtaken just about every Senate Republican.”

— Updated at 1:31 p.m.