Senate

GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are hitting back at Democrats who have accused them of spreading disinformation as part of a probe involving the Obama administration and Hunter Biden, the son of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

The two GOP chairmen sent a letter - dated Tuesday but released Wednesday - accusing top congressional Democrats of using concerns about foreign election interference to "knowingly and recklessly promote false narratives for political purposes" about the Republican investigation. 

"We have neither sought out, relied upon, nor publicly released anything that could even remotely be considered disinformation," they wrote. "Far from promoting Russian disinformation, our investigation is focused on uncovering the facts concerning what did and did not occur so that we can put these matters to rest." 

The letter, which was addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), comes after the same four Democrats sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray last month asking for a defensive briefing for all lawmakers over concerns that Congress was being targeted by a disinformation campaign. 

"We are gravely concerned, in particular, that Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November," they wrote. 

Democrats were vague in their letter about what they were referring to, but later pointed their concerns at the Senate GOP probe, which is mainly being led by Johnson on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. 

Asked about the GOP investigation, Pelosi said that if individuals tied to the Kremlin are trying to spread disinformation aimed at discrediting Joe Biden, the intelligence community needs to be upfront about it.  

"Now, that could be unwitting on the senator's part. I don't know what he knows ... But there is plenty they could be telling the American people, and including the United States senators who may be associating with some of these people," she told CNN on Monday. 

Johnson has said repeatedly his investigation is not centered on the Bidens and is not being driven by the election. But some of his requests for information have centered on Hunter Biden's travel records, contacts between Joe Biden and Ukraine, and Hunter Biden's business associates.

Johnson and Grassley noted that they didn't see a copy of the Democratic letter until after it was reported on by the media. They also confirmed that their investigation is mentioned in the classified addendum, which they noted they didn't see until "late last week." 

"The fact that the press knew more about the content of the allegedly classified material than we did indicates that you are more interested in grabbing headlines and scoring political points than actually addressing and confronting the issue of foreign interference in our elections," they wrote.  

The letter is the latest escalation of tensions over the GOP investigation. Republicans are accusing Democrats of leaking information aimed at undermining the probe, while Democrats have raised concerns that the investigation is aimed at undermining Biden and could unwittingly spread Russian misinformation. 

Johnson said during an interview with a Wisconsin TV station that he had not received tapes from a former Ukrainian lawmaker with ties to the Kremlin. 

Pressed on whether he had received information from pro-Russia Ukrainians, Johnson stressed that he had not gotten the audio tapes, but "we are getting information from a variety of sources." 

"Before we ever use it, we verify and make sure that it's accurate and true before we'd ever publish anything," he said.

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