Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman, was accused of turning the powerful committee into “an instrument of Russian disinformation” as he pushes an investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma Holdings.
Johnson was f0rced to cancel a vote scheduled for Wednesday afternoon on a subpoena stemming from his months-long probe into Biden after several “discrepancies” came to light.
“Out of an abundance of caution, and to allow time for you to receive additional briefings, I will postpone a vote to subpoena records and an appearance from former Blue Star Strategies consultant Andrii Telizhenko about his work for the lobbying firm,” Johnson said in a note to committee members, according to The Washington Post.
Johnson told reporters that he was pulling the vote because of “some discrepancies brought up in what we had been told.”
“There were issues raised,” Johnson said. “There were discrepancies in what had been told in one briefing versus the next briefing, and then even greater discrepancies in staff notes.”
Johnson’s decision to move forward with the subpoena vote, over the objections of Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) had sparked days of high-profile tensions, with Democrats viewing the subpoena as an attempt to target former Vice President Joe Biden that might also help spread Russian misinformation.
The subpoena vote had been expected to pass along party lines — a high-profile break with how Senate committees have exercised their subpoena powers in recent years.
“Ron Johnson is turning the Homeland Security Committee into an instrument of Russian disinformation,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) tweeted this week.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) also appeared to knock Johnson in a letter to four inspectors general on Wednesday, asking to investigate if their respective agencies were “choosing to comply with requests that are designed to damage the president’s political opponents,” while ignoring other requests for information from Congress.
Instead of subpoenaing Telizhenko, Johnson indicated that he would instead target Blue Star Strategies, which has ties to Burisma.
Johnson and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Finance Committee, are months into a broad investigation, part of which touches on Hunter Biden’s work on the board of Burisma. In a letter sent earlier this year to the U.S. Secret Service, they said they were also “reviewing potential conflicts of interest posed by the business activities of Hunter Biden and his associates during the Obama administration.”
The probe comes as Republicans have seized on a discredited narrative that suggested former Vice President Joe Biden tried to remove Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in an effort to protect his son. No evidence has indicated that either of the Bidens engaged in any wrongdoing, and there was widespread concern at the time — both internationally and from a bipartisan coalition in Congress, including Johnson — about corruption within Shokin’s office.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden’s campaign, argued that Johnson should be using his committee to focus on the coronavirus instead of probing Hunter Biden and Burisma.
“It is alarming and deeply troubling that Senator Johnson is diverting the attention and taxpayer-funded resources of the Senate Homeland Security Committee away from the coronavirus outbreak, which was just designated a global pandemic, to clutch at a conspiracy theory that every fact-checker has debunked,” Bates said.
“In fact, Senator Johnson himself, joined by other Republicans, endorsed Joe Biden’s work to get this corrupt prosecutor fired and signed a letter supporting that effort in 2015. He has as much credibility on this issue as Bernie Madoff did on pension funds,” he added.