In one party line, Republican members of the committee gave their chairman, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), The authority to compel testimony from several current and former officials, including former FBI director James Comey and former director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who was involved in the transition process in 2016 and 2017 as well as the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
The approval itself means Johnson will be able to deal with the threat of politically explosive subpoenas – some against witnesses Trump has repeatedly labeled archenemies – even after Congress paused in October and the elections keep getting closer moves.
After Johnson withdrew Brink̵
Romney said the Biden investigation had “the characteristics of a political exercise” and cited “recent media comments” – a clear reference to Johnson’s recent public statements indicating that his investigation will denigrate Biden’s prospects for the election. Romney also said it was “not the legitimate role of the government, for Congress, or for taxpayer expenses to harm political opponents”.
Johnson is preparing to release an interim report on this probe in the coming days, examining Hunter Biden’s role on the board of directors of Ukrainian gas company Burisma. There is no evidence that Joe Biden or his son was involved in any wrongdoing.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), The Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate, was absent from the vote but was allowed to vote by proxy under the rules of the committee.
Democrats claim that both probes constitute inappropriate fishing expeditions aimed at tarring Biden, the party’s 2020 presidential candidate. They also say Johnson’s investigation mirrors a Russian disinformation campaign. Johnson denies these allegations, calling it a “coordinated smear test” against him.
“Our investigation is focused on uncovering and revealing the truth, but the Democrats seem intent at every turn to frustrate and intervene without supervision,” said Johnson, accusing the Democrats of “obstructive behavior.”
The committee’s action on Wednesday targets several high-profile individuals who have long been criticized by Trump and his allies, including former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and more than two dozen others who have received deposit orders.
Wednesday’s vote also allows Johnson, McCabe and James Baker, former top FBI attorney, to issue subpoenas for documents and testimony, in addition to Bruce Ohr and Stefan Halper, an informant for the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump targeted campaign.
These subpoenas and deposit notices relate to Johnson’s investigation into the presidential transition period in 2016 and 2017 and allegations that Obama administration officials abused their authority in investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Last month, Johnson summoned the FBI on documents related to this investigation.
Romney voted for the subpoenas and testimony related to the investigation, which targeted the Obama administration’s actions during the transition, and paved the way for the transition.
Wednesday’s final vote, which was ultimately scrapped, focused on Johnson’s investigation into allegations that a Democratic public relations firm tried to influence the Obama-era State Department by exploiting Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board of directors.
The committee attempted to ask Brink about “Burisma Holdings and actual or apparent conflicts of interest with US and Ukraine policies,” according to a copy of the committee’s agenda received from POLITICO.
The committee has already summoned Blue Star Strategies, the democratic PR firm in question.
Michigan Senator Gary Peters, the committee’s top Democrat, sent a letter to Johnson Monday formally protesting the proposed subpoenas and escrow and accusing Johnson of using the Senate committee’s authority to intensify Trump’s re-election efforts .
“You are sticking to this approach despite knowingly making discredited allegations that our own intelligence community has warned that they are part of a Russian attack on our democracy,” wrote Peters, adding that the investigation into the president’s transition process has opened up ” doubled “The ongoing review of the Senate Judiciary Committee and similar investigations that have already been completed, including by the Inspector General of the Justice Department.
“Despite my warnings and the assessments of our own intelligence community, you continue to use the committee as a channel for a foreign adversary to attack our democracy,” added Peters.
Senate Minority Chairman Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) tried Wednesday to pass a resolution calling for the “cessation of any Senate investigation or activity that allows Congress to act as a conduit for Russian information.” “. Johnson rejected the resolution after Schumer criticized his investigation.
“While the rest of the country has focused on fighting a global pandemic, the committee chairman and Republicans have been wasting tax dollars in recent months trying to get President Trump’s political rival a job,” Schumer said.
Johnson has denied that his investigation had anything to do with the election, but he recently told a radio host that his investigation “would certainly help Donald Trump win re-election and would certainly provide pretty good evidence that he wasn’t for.” Vice President Biden has voted. ”
And earlier this week Johnson said, “Hold on. In about a week or so, we will learn a lot more about Vice President Biden’s suitability for office. “
Many of Johnson’s allegations mirror those of Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker who has just been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for disrupting elections. Derkach sent Johnson packets of information about Biden, but Johnson’s office has denied that the Senator received anything from Derkach.
In announcing the sanctions, the Treasury Department named Derkach a Russian agent and said he had “conducted an undercover campaign aimed at cultivating false and unsubstantiated reports of US officials in the upcoming 2020 presidential election and corruption investigations in both Ukraine as well as in the United States designed to culminate before election day. “
The committee was informed several times about the efforts of foreign actors to interfere in the elections. The FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force briefed advisors to the committee earlier this year about Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat, who made unsubstantiated claims about Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 elections. Shortly after that briefing, Johnson scrapped a scheduled committee vote to issue a subpoena to Telizhenko after some on the GOP side expressed discomfort about the former diplomat.
Johnson has been criticized from all sides as he continued the investigation – from Trump allies who believe he is not aggressive enough and Democrats who say his actions harm US national security. In addition, POLITICO reported in August that the CIA has refused to notify its committee because intelligence officials are deeply skeptical of the Biden probe.
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.