Republicans are preparing to release a report in a matter of days on their investigation focused on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, a move they hope will put fresh scrutiny on the Democratic nominee just weeks from the election.
The controversial probe, spearheaded by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), is focused broadly on Obama-era policy and Hunter Biden’s work for Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings.
The GOP report, which is set to be released this week, is expected to argue that Hunter Biden’s work impacted Obama-era Ukraine policy and created a conflict of interest given then-Vice President Joe Biden’s work in the area.
No evidence has indicated criminal wrongdoing by the Bidens. A narrative, seized on by President Trump, that Biden worked to oust Ukrainian Prosecutor Viktor Shokin to protect his son has been widely discredited, though Hunter Biden has said joining the board was “poor judgement.”
“I think it’s time for the American people to see what we’ve got,” said Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Though he’s argued for months that his probe isn’t being driven by the 2020 election, Johnson has teased the forthcoming findings as damaging to Biden’s political prospects and placed it in the context of the rapidly approaching November election.
“What our investigations are uncovering, I think, will reveal this is not somebody we should be electing president of the United States,” Johnson said in an interview with local Wisconsin radio station WCLO.
The release of the report will come days before the first debate between Joe Biden and Trump, with the president’s allies likely to seize on the probe’s findings and Johnson hoping it sparks new scrutiny by the media.
The report was initially expected to be released in July, but Johnson has faced delays in getting documents and interviews for the investigation.
The document, according to Johnson, is expected to also include a section of unanswered questions he has for the Bidens.
The Wisconsin Republican’s remarks talking up the report while blasting Joe Biden’s electoral prospects have poured fuel onto bipartisan concerns that Johnson is using his chairman’s gavel to target Trump’s political enemies.
In addition to an investigation focused on the Bidens, Johnson and Grassley are separately investigating the FBI’s Russia probe, “unmasking” and leaks from the early days of the Trump administration.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a member of Johnson’s committee and the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, warned that the Biden-Burisma probe was a “political exercise.”
“It’s not the legitimate role of government for Congress or for taxpayer expense to be used in an effort to damage political opponents,” Romney said.
Frustration between Johnson and Democrats, which has been building for weeks, is spilling into the spotlight, with Democrats on and off Capitol Hill accusing him of funneling Russian disinformation weeks before the election, something he has denied and, in turn, accused his critics of doing.
“It is disgraceful enough for the chair of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee to dismiss the worst public health crisis in generations and abandon oversight of the failed federal response to the pandemic. But to instead subsidize a foreign influence operation against the sovereignty of our elections with American taxpayer dollars, all in a vain attempt to resuscitate a conspiracy theory that hinges on Senator Johnson himself being corrupt, is tragic malfeasance,” said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden’s campaign.
Underscoring the tension over the probe, aides and lawmakers told The Hill they were warned beforehand that there was concern they would violate the Senate’s Rule 19. They were also given warnings while speaking about not violating the rule, underscoring the concern from Senate staff.
The rule says that “no Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” It’s rarely invoked, but Republicans did use it to temporarily sideline Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during the debate over then-Sen. Jeff Sessions’s (R-Ala.) nomination to be Trump’s attorney general in 2017.
Wyden and Schumer went forward with trying to pass their resolution, which was blocked by Johnson. But the GOP senator said he decided against trying to pass his own resolution aimed at Democrats, though he still spoke from the floor to fire back at their accusations.
“I saw their resolution … so I was going to enter my own,” he said. “When I came on the floor, I was basically warned, ‘We are concerned about what’s going to happen here on the floor.’ … We were all warned.”
Grassley also said he believed Democrats going forward with their resolution was a violation of Senate rules.
The tensions over Johnson and Grassley’s probe come as intelligence community officials, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, have warned that Russia is actively working to try to “denigrate” Joe Biden.
The Department of Treasury recently sanctioned Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach, who was cited by William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, for spreading disinformation to “undermine” the former vice president.
Democrats are worried Johnson’s report will include similar accusations about Joe Biden as those being spread by Derkach, whom Johnson has adamantly denied having contact with.
“President Trump’s Department of the Treasury sanctions Derkach, and the chairman of the committee repeats the same kind of discredited allegations that Derkach propagates. It is outrageous. It is a disgrace,” Schumer said.
There have been bipartisan concerns about the reliability of information coming out of Ukraine. Johnson had separately been prepared to subpoena former Blue Star Strategies consultant Andrii Telizhenko earlier this year but reversed course after a closed-door FBI briefing and instead subpoenaed Blue Star Strategies directly.
Johnson and Grassley have also gotten documents from the Treasury and State departments as well as the National Archives.
And they’ve spoken with several current and former officials, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, who was deposed by House committees last year, and former special envoy for international energy Amos Hochstein, who met with committee staff last week. Johnson said both Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, and Geoffrey Ross Pyatt, the current ambassador to Greece and former ambassador to Ukraine, are scheduled to meet with committee staff.
Democratic committee staff have been taking part in the interviews, and Wyden and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) are planning to release a dueling report to challenge the GOP findings.
Wyden offered a prebuttal of the GOP report, noting that — while he won’t publicly disclose classified information — he has not seen any indication of wrongdoing by the former vice president either as part of the closed-door depositions or in his role as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Chairman Johnson has repeatedly claimed in the media that he has uncovered new and damaging information about Vice President Biden’s activity in Ukraine,” Wyden said. “This is simply not true. Nothing I have seen — not one bit of evidence — could lead to the conclusion that Vice President Biden did anything wrong in Ukraine.”
Peters — who has called the probe a “fishing expedition … designed to influence the presidential election” — is signaling concerns that Johnson and Grassley could try to cherry-pick facts to paint a negative picture of the former vice president that would be used by the president and his allies to fuel a narrative in the final weeks of the election.
As part of a meeting in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Peters and Johnson struck a deal to release the transcripts from the closed-door depositions simultaneously as the GOP report is released.
“Those will all be released at the same time,” Peters said of the transcripts. “So you’ll have it, and you’ll be able to look at what people actually said … and see for yourself and see whether or not what is in report actually jives with what you’re reading.”