Ron Johnson signals some GOP senators concerned about his Obama-era probes
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) signaled Wednesday that some Republican members on his committee have voiced concerns about his investigations related to the Obama administration and Hunter Biden, the son of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was asked during an interview with Fox News whether there are Republican senators on his panel who do not want him to subpoena former FBI Director James Comey.
“I wasn’t going to name names. There are legitimate concerns, and, again, I was happy to try to obtain these documents on a voluntary basis,” Johnson said, asked about potential pushback from GOP members.
He added that some GOP senators wanted him to “do everything I could to obtain the testimony and documents on a voluntary basis. We’ve been trying.”
Johnson was given broad subpoena authority in a party-line committee vote in June that allows him to compel documents and testimony from more than 30 people, including Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan and former FBI agent Peter Strzok. Because Johnson was granted the broad powers, he can issue the individual subpoenas on his own without going back to his committee for another vote.
Johnson issued a subpoena earlier this week to the FBI for documents but has so far not issued any other subpoenas under the authorization granted to him in June.
The issue jumped into the spotlight on Wednesday morning when Johnson had a contentious interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who grilled the GOP senator on why he has not compelled Comey, Brennan and Strzok to testify as part of his investigation.
“First of all, I need approval of my committee members, and it was tough enough getting the subpoenas on Blue Star Strategies and then the other subpoena authority I’ve got,” Johnson said.
Hewitt then pressed Johnson several times to tell him which GOP senator was “blocking” a subpoena of Comey. Hewitt later acknowledged on Twitter that he was not aware Johnson already had sole authority to subpoena the former FBI director, meaning no GOP senator is blocking it, and accused the GOP chairman of “throwing colleagues under the bus.”
“I had a devil of a time just getting the subpoena authority that I got,” Johnson said.
Hewitt then asked what that meant and who was the “screw-up” on committee.
“We had a number of my committee members that were highly concerned about how this looks politically,” Johnson replied.
When Johnson said he was not going to name names, Hewitt’s frustration boiled over.
“Are you aware that in the eyes of someone like me … you’re failing? Do you understand that the committee and Sen. Graham’s committee on this issue are failing the American people? We don’t have the answers,” Hewitt said, referring to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
“I’m shaking my head. I don’t think, senator, you understand the depth to which people like me … are absolutely disappointed in our senators, absolutely disappointed,” Hewitt continued. “They play hardball in the House. You guys play soft, underhand in the Senate.”
Asked about the exchange, Johnson’s office said the GOP senator’s response to the question about members of his committee blocking a Comey subpoena was based off a “misunderstanding.” They also confirmed that Johnson already has the authority to subpoena Comey and other individuals Hewitt named.
“Chairman Johnson is committed to running a thorough investigation into abuses by the Obama administration toward the Trump campaign. Committee members want Chairman Johnson to attempt to get voluntary compliance, and also to be fully prepared for interviews by obtaining necessary documents, before compelling testimony,” a spokesperson said.
“Chairman Johnson has been working for months to gather documents and information from witnesses on a voluntary basis, but will subpoena witnesses when necessary – and as he has mentioned, his patience is wearing thin,” the aide added.
Hewitt, in a tweet, said he had invited Johnson to appear on his radio show again on Thursday.
“This was not a ‘misunderstanding’ but a transparent effort to blame his colleagues. It would be a service to them to explain to audience what the real story is,” he added.
Though Republicans on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted in June to give Johnson broad subpoena authority, some did voice concerns about the appearance of the probe to reporters and during the committee meeting.
“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,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said at the time. “I continue to be concerned that this is politically motivated.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), another member of the committee, said in June he hoped Johnson wouldn’t ultimately issue the subpoenas amid “all of the other things we have on our plate right now” and “unless it’s absolutely necessary.”