GOP votes to give chairman authority to subpoena Obama officials

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted on Thursday to grant Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday Senate Republicans defend Trump's response on Russian bounties Postal Service boosted by increased use during pandemic: report MORE (R-Wis.) broad subpoena authority as part of a probe stemming from the Obama administration.

In a party-line vote, Republicans on the panel gave Johnson the power to issue subpoenas for more than 35 individuals and a swath of documents, which will allow him to skip having to come back to the committee for a vote on each individual subpoena.

Johnson is conducting a wide-ranging investigation that includes reviewing "Crossfire Hurricane," the name for the FBI's investigation into election interference and the Trump campaign, the probe of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and leaks stemming from the early days of the Trump administration.

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Johnson defended the investigation on Thursday, saying that "evidence is mounting" that there was not a "peaceful and cooperative" transition between the Obama and Trump administrations.

"The conduct we know that occurred during the transition should concern everyone and absolutely warrants further investigation. ... The subpoena authority I am requesting today will help us gather the necessary information. Hopefully, the agencies and individuals will fully cooperate, and the number of subpoenas required will be limited," he added.

The subpoena authorization vote allows Johnson to subpoena former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyThe Seila Law case: Liberty and political firing A new age of lies? Trump celebrates ruling on Flynn case MORE, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanGraham postpones Russia probe subpoena vote as tensions boil over GOP votes to give chairman authority to subpoena Obama officials Rosenstein takes fire from Republicans in heated testimony MORE, among others.

Johnson also got the authority to issue subpoenas for FBI records relating to Crossfire Hurricane and the State Department for any records related to Christopher Steele, who compiled a controversial research dossier against then-candidate Trump. The subpoena also covers documents from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence related to attempts to "unmask" individuals tied to the Trump campaign, transition team or White House through January 2017.

The subpoena vote wasn't without signs of division among Republicans, even though they all voted for the subpoena. 
 
Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators aim to limit Trump's ability to remove troops from Germany Voters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November MORE (R-Utah) said he was able to get changes to the subpoena to "narrow" the scope of Johnson's investigation to prevent inspectors general or the work products from being subpoenaed. Because he was able to get a deal with Johnson, he said he would vote for the subpoena. 
 
"I believe there are far more urgent priorities the committee should address ... I'd also note that this matter has already been investigated by the IG [inspector general] and is now being invested by the Justice Department. ... I continue to be concerned that this is politically motivated," he said. 
 
Democrats fumed over Johnson's decision to force the subpoena vote, arguing that it was a political "fishing expedition" to try to find fodder against Trump's political enemies ahead of the November election.

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHillicon Valley: Livestreaming service Twitch suspends Trump account | Reddit updates hate speech policy, bans subreddits including The_Donald | India bans TikTok Senators move to boost state and local cybersecurity as part of annual defense bill Democrats optimistic about chances of winning Senate MORE (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Homeland Security panel, wrote in a letter to Johnson this week that the subpoena authorization "has every appearance of a partisan fishing expedition."

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"These actions divide our Committee at a time when Americans need us to be united. Pursued in this fashion, the work of the Committee will not be trusted. Politicizing a Committee investigation into the FBI and DOJ serves only to undermine all three institutions," Peters added.

Peters said during Thursday's committee meeting that Johnson's investigation largely duplicated an ongoing Justice Department investigation being led by U.S. Attorney John DurhamJohn DurhamTrump says Obama may have committed treason The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - After rough week, can Trump bounce back? Barr: 'Developments' likely in Durham investigation this summer MORE's probe of the Russia investigation.

"To duplicate the Justice Department's efforts now suggests that this pursuit is more about duplicating headlines than any real need for an investigation," Peters said.

Democrats on the panel made multiple attempts to delay the subpoena vote.

Peters tried to delay the subpoena vote until after the committee had the chance to review the findings of Durham's investigation. Republicans rejected that effort in a party-line vote.

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He also tried to delay the subpoena vote until Aug. 30 to give the committee time to get responses to ongoing bipartisan requests for information, including the rise of domestic violence.

Peters argued that diving into the Obama-era probe without wrapping up other issues "undermines the credibility of this committee." Republicans similarly rejected that request in a party-line vote.

Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenators press IRS chief on stimulus check pitfalls Hillicon Valley: Livestreaming service Twitch suspends Trump account | Reddit updates hate speech policy, bans subreddits including The_Donald | India bans TikTok Senators move to boost state and local cybersecurity as part of annual defense bill MORE (D-N.H.) tried to delay the vote until the committee could get a briefing on "unmasking" or until July 1, whichever came first. Republicans rejected it.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperHillicon Valley: Facebook to label 'newsworthy' posts that violate policies | Unilever to pull ads from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram | FEC commissioner steps down Senate Democrats push federal agencies to combat coronavirus scams and robocalls The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Mark Takano says Congress must extend worker benefits expiring in July; WHO reports record spike in global cases MORE (D-Del.) said on Thursday that he was skipping the committee vote in protest.

"This Committee is spending its time trying to score political points and help a President in an election year. ... History will remember what we choose to prioritize right now, and it will not judge these actions of our chairman kindly," Carper said in a statement.

The Thursday vote comes as Republicans are ramping up their investigations into decisions stemming from the Obama administration. The Senate Judiciary Committee is also holding a subpoena vote on Thursday to let Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Campaign Report: The political heavyweights in Tuesday's primary fights Harrison goes on the attack against Graham in new South Carolina Senate ad Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police MORE (R-S.C.) subpoena more than 50 officials as part of his own investigation into the Russia probe.

Republicans on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee also voted late last month to vote to issue its first subpoena as part of Johnson's probe into Hunter Biden, the son of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings.