GOP's Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst

The Republican investigations into the Obama administration are fueling public animosity in the Senate.

Those tensions, which have been simmering for months, boiled over this past week, resulting in shouting matches and multiple warnings of long-standing damage to the chamber as an institution.

The scene played out across days, on and off the floor and in multiple committee rooms, as both Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSenate panels to interview former Hunter Biden business associate Friday Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Biden: Johnson should be 'ashamed' for suggesting family profited from their name MORE (R-Wis.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid MORE (R-S.C.) took up subpoenas related to their investigations and 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 testified for the first time since resigning last year.


Graham, a top Trump ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE, tipped his hand to the months of building frustration, much of which has played out in shots fired through the press, saying Democrats had made it “abundantly clear” that they disagree with him and “think I am in Trump’s pocket.”

“It’s not lost on me,” Graham said. “But to expect me to punt? You can forget it.”

Democrats view the probes as an effort by Republicans to use their Senate gavels to go after Trump’s political enemies — including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus MORE, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee — ahead of November.

“This is going to be a Trump reelect show from start to finish,” Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinMcConnell tees up Barrett nomination, setting up rare weekend session Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Republicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycott committee vote MORE (D-Ill.) told The Hill.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySchumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority Democrats seem unlikely to move against Feinstein MORE (D-Vt.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former chairman, called Graham’s subpoena threat “the Senate at its worst.”

The bickering comes as Republicans are ramping up their investigations into decisions stemming from the Obama administration, including the FBI’s probe into Russia's election interference and the Trump campaign and former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.


Graham on Thursday delayed a vote on a wide-ranging subpoena, which would include more than 50 people, after a fierce clash with Democrats over the request. They will instead vote on the subpoena on Thursday, when Graham is expected to ultimately have the votes.

Durbin, during the hearing, told Graham that he viewed the investigation as about a “president who just can't get over it — maybe he will never will — and by a chairman who wants him to have another day to make his point about how he was mistreated.”

Graham interrupted to say, "With all due respect, I don't buy what you're saying at all."

The rancor, which comes in the lead-up to the 2020 election, is the latest high-profile fight in a Senate increasingly battered by partisan tensions, ranging from Supreme Court nominations to an impeachment trial that ended only four months ago.

Just this past week, the Senate confirmed Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media, despite an active investigation by the D.C. attorney general and an attempt by Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Kasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report MORE (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to delay the vote.

“I have been really patient. Every time that I set this for a hearing and they wanted more time, I let that go,” said Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischWhy the US should rely more on strategy, not sanctions Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Senators blast Turkey's move to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque MORE (R-Idaho) as he rejected the attempt to delay Michael Pack’s nomination.

But the Judiciary Committee, in particular, has been at the center of some of the chamber’s biggest fights, including Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughCollins says running as Independent 'crossed my mind' Clean energy opportunities in a time of crisis Susan Collins and the American legacy MORE’s Supreme Court nomination and William BarrBill BarrTrump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Seattle, Portland, NYC sue Trump administration over threat to pull federal money Trump says he doesn't actually want Whitmer, Biden and Obama to be locked up despite chants MORE’s attorney general nomination. At the same hearing where Graham delayed the subpoena vote, the committee also voted along party lines to send Justin Walker’s D.C. Circuit nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Pelosi, Mnuchin push stimulus talks forward, McConnell applies brakes MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, warned that if Graham goes forward with the subpoena, he’ll be setting a long-lasting and, in her view, damaging precedent for how the committee uses its investigatory powers.

“Once the door is opened to proceeding in this manner – to allowing the chairman sweeping, unilateral authority to subpoena political opponents – that door remains open, regardless of which party has majority power,” she said.

Graham, however, argued that Democrats being unwilling to help him investigate “says a lot, I think, not good about this committee.”

“I feel passionately about what I’m doing and why, and I don’t need anybody to validate to me I know what I’m up to. I think I’ve been more than fair. They have a different view and that’s the way it goes,” he added to The Hill.

Johnson successfully got subpoena authority to compel more than 30 individuals to testify and demand a wide swath of documents as he probes what he sees as “corruption” stemming from the Obama administration, including the Russia investigation, the case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired after lying about his conversations with a Russian ambassador, and embarrassing leaks dating back to the early days of Trump’s presidency. 


But before Johnson did so, he got an earful from both sides of the aisle who questioned if the investigation was the best use of the committee’s time during a pandemic.

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersThe Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid BlackPAC rolls out Senate race endorsements for the first time MORE (Mich.), the top Democrat on the committee, said the subpoena request looked like a “fishing expedition” that came even as the Justice Department is investigating much of the same ground.

"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.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRatings drop to 55M for final Trump-Biden debate Bipartisan group of senators call on Trump to sanction Russia over Navalny poisoning Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election MORE (R-Utah) said he had struck a deal with Johnson that would let him support the subpoena authority request but not without raising concerns about the probe.

"I believe there are far more urgent priorities the committee should address," Romney said. "I continue to be concerned that this is politically motivated."

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGraham wants to review ActBlue's source of small-dollar contributions GOP blocks Schumer effort to adjourn Senate until after election Candymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety MORE (R-Ohio) voted to allow Johnson to issue the subpoenas but said he hoped the chairman wouldn’t ultimately do so amid “all of the other things we have on our plate right now” and “unless it’s absolutely necessary.”


In the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSweden bans use of Huawei, ZTE equipment in new 5G networks McConnell aims for unity amid growing divisions with Trump Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' MORE (R-Neb.) also found himself at odds with Graham after he fumed that the public sparring was “bullshit” fueled because there were TV cameras in the room.

“Ninety percent of our committees are about people trolling for sound bites,” Sasse added.

The moment had a perhaps unintended consequence: It rallied Graham to defend Democrats as well as his own right to argue with them.

"I didn’t want to say anybody’s grandstanding. They genuinely disagree with what I’m doing. I genuinely disagree with their approach to how we should do oversight," Graham told The Hill. "Sen. Sasse is frustrated, but I don't want to cheapen what they're doing. I don't think they're playing to the cameras. I think they sincerely believe what they believe."