Politics

Senate committee moves forward with Hunter Biden probe, schedules subpoena vote

Key Points
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a vote next Wednesday, May 20, on a subpoena for Blue Star Strategies, a firm that represented Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings when Hunter Biden, son of apparent 2020 Democratic nominee Joe Biden, was on its board. 
  • Burisma and Hunter Biden's connection to it were at the center of Democrats' push to impeach Trump in late 2019 and early 2020 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
  • Efforts by congressional Republicans to investigate Hunter Biden appeared to lose much of their steam after Trump's acquittal, as the coronavirus crisis came into focus.
World Food Program USA Board Chairman Hunter Biden speaks at the World Food Program USA's Annual McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Paul Morigi | Getty Images

Senate Republicans are forging ahead with their investigation involving apparent Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, which grew out of President Donald Trump's impeachment saga.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., will hold a vote May 20 on whether to subpoena Blue Star Strategies, a firm that represented Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings when Hunter Biden was on its board. 

Austin Altenberg, a spokesman for the committee's Republican majority, confirmed the upcoming vote to CNBC and provided a copy of the agenda for the May 20 meeting.

Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates decried Johnson's moves, accusing him of "running a political errand for Donald Trump" in the middle of a public health crisis and "wasting Homeland Security Committee time and resources attempting to resurrect a craven, previously-debunked smear against Vice President Biden."

"Senator Johnson should be working overtime to save American lives -- but instead he's just trying to save the President's job," Bates added in a statement to CNBC.

But Altenberg in his own statement maintained that "the American people deserve to know the extent to which the U.S.-based, Democrat-led consulting company leveraged its connections within the Obama administration to try to gain access and potentially influence U.S. government agencies on behalf of its corrupt client, Burisma."

The majority's statement said that Blue Star had not "fully responded" to prior requests for information. "This subpoena furthers the committee's work to address the many unanswered questions about this effort and potential conflicts of interest. It is unclear why anyone would want to help Blue Star Strategies continue to hide what happened here."

A spokesperson for the panel's Democratic minority, led by Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, told CNBC in a statement that "it's alarming that in the middle of a national emergency Chairman Johnson is choosing to pursue a partisan investigation."

"Since the majority has not fully exhausted their options to get the information they are requesting voluntarily, the Chairman's decision to schedule this vote appears to be focused on generating headlines and not advancing the committee's mission of working in a bipartisan manner to protect the health and security of Americans," the spokesperson said.

Peters in a March 17 letter to Johnson laid out multiple reasons why he disapproved of the subpoena for Blue Star. "You have not fully pursued voluntary production of these records; you have not scheduled the intelligence briefings you agreed to; you risk continuing to amplify foreign election interference efforts," Peters wrote.

Burisma and Hunter Biden's connection to it were at the center of Democrats' push to impeach Trump in late 2019 and early 2020 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The articles of impeachment were related to efforts by Trump and his associates to have Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announce investigations into allegations against the Bidens and a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

The Democratic majority in the House impeached Trump in December on both articles. The president was acquitted in early February by the GOP-led Senate.

Efforts by congressional Republicans to investigate Hunter Biden appeared to lose much of their steam after Trump's acquittal.

The coronavirus crisis is now the most pressing concern for politicians and media outlets alike. In early February there were only about a dozen confirmed U.S. cases. By mid-March, however, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic.

Johnson on March 11 backed away from holding an expected vote to subpoena documents from an ex-Ukrainian official, Andriy Telizhenko, who consulted for Blue Star, NBC News reported at the time. Johnson had told members that he would "instead go straight to the source and compel the same records and an appearance directly from Blue Star Strategies."

Democrats had slammed Republicans for pursuing probes of the Bidens, arguing that allegations of wrongdoing against the former vice president and his son were unsubstantiated. Trump's request in a July 25 call for Zelenskiy to "look into" the Bidens was an attempt to pressure a foreign country to meddle in the 2020 election by staining Biden with the mark of a corruption probe, Democrats say. Biden was seen as a leading candidate in the Democratic primary at the time Trump called Zelenskiy.

Republicans, such as Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who launched his own probe into Burisma and the Bidens, have raised questions about Joe Biden's calls for Ukraine to remove a prosecutor while his son was on Burisma's board. 

Biden's push for the prosecutor's removal was supported by the Obama administration and other estern governments, who saw the Ukrainian prosecutor as corrupt. And a number of Republicans, including Johnson, had reportedly also called on Ukraine to reform its prosecutor general's office in 2016, around the same time as Biden.

The six Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security panel, led by Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, are expected to vote against the motion for a subpoena. There are eight Republicans on the committee.

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