Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) pushed ahead Monday with an investigation into Hunter Biden and Ukraine—despite Democrats warning it is being used to “launder” Russian disinformation ahead of the election—issuing a subpoena to the FBI and escalating growing tensions in Congress over Russian interference by accusing Democrats of making “false accusations” about the probe in an open letter.
Johnson, who chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, launched an investigation into Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Ukrainian company Burisma amid the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, which he said will release its findings ahead of the election in September.
Democrats have become increasingly vocal about the threat of Russian election interference and concerned that the investigation is being used by Russia as a vehicle to spread disinformation about Joe Biden, with Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal describing the investigation in a Washington Post op-ed as “a forum for debunked conspiracy theories peddled by Kremlin proxies.”
U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center director William Evanina also warned in a public statement Friday that Russia “is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden” ahead of the election, including through efforts by Kremlin-linked Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach.
Johnson released a letter Monday attacking Democrats for making “false accusations” about his investigation, claiming their goal is to “attack our character in order to marginalize the eventual findings of our investigation.”
Johnson specifically denied that his investigation has been in touch with Derkach—who has reportedly been sending damaging allegations about Biden to Republican lawmakers as part of a smear campaign against the former vice president—though the Post reports Derkach told the outlet he has sent materials to Johnson’s committee.
Johnson also issued a subpoena to the FBI for materials regarding the investigation, though the FBI said in a statement to the Associated Press it had already been providing his committee with documents and would “continue to cooperate” with its requests.
“I have no doubt Russia is continuing its efforts to sow discord and destabilize countries and political systems throughout the world, including here in the U.S.,” Johnson writes. “But I also try to put the threat of Russian election interference in proper perspective, to realize we face far greater threats as a nation, and to completely reject Democrats’ successful and repeated efforts at weaponizing persistent Russian meddling to gain political advantage and destroy individual reputations.”
The Biden campaign has slammed Johnson’s investigation as a “desperate taxpayer-funded smear campaign” based “on a farcical, long-debunked, hardcore rightwing conspiracy theory.” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, whose chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley is working with Johnson on the investigation, has also criticized the probe, saying that it “started as an effort to distract from Donald Trump’s impeachment and has morphed into an effort to boost Donald Trump’s campaign.” Even Republicans have raised potential concerns about the investigation: Sen. Lindsey Graham said in February that documents coming from Ukraine should be sent to intelligence officials because “Russia is playing us all like a fiddle,” and Sen. Richard Burr reportedly privately warned that Russia could use the investigation as part of their ongoing efforts “to sow chaos and distrust in the U.S. political system.”
Johnson’s probe, like the Ukrainian conflict at the heart of Trump’s impeachment, concerns the possibility of improper actions regarding Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board and allegations that then-Vice President Joe Biden pushed out Ukraine’s prosecutor general specifically for Burisma’s benefit. Hunter Biden has conceded his Ukrainian dealings were an act of “poor judgement” given his father’s job, but maintained he “did nothing wrong at all.” Joe Biden’s push to oust Viktor Shokin was part of a broad coalition of government officials calling for the prosecutor general’s firing—including Johnson himself, who signed a letter in 2016 urging then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to “press ahead with urgent reforms to the prosecutor general’s office.” (Johnson has since claimed that his support for reforms was based on “the same misinformation campaign against the Ukrainian prosecutor general, perpetrated by representatives of the U.S. government.”) The Ukrainian investigation into Burisma that Republicans accuse Biden of fighting through his anti-Shokin push had also already actually been “shelved,” activists told Radio Free Europe, and Shokin actively impeded efforts to continue it.
Ron Johnson subpoenas documents from FBI director (Politico)
Russia Trying To ‘Denigrate’ Biden, Counterintelligence Chief Says—But China Wants Him To Win (Forbes)
White House Says China Is Targeting U.S. Election With Cyberattacks, But Pelosi Says Threats From Russia And China Are ‘Not Equivalent’ (Forbes)
Senate Republicans advance Ukraine probe aimed at Biden despite foreign interference concerns (Washington Post)
Democrats turn up the heat on Wray over foreign campaign interference (Politico)
Democrats: Packets sent to Trump allies are part of foreign plot to damage Biden (Politico)
The threat to U.S. elections is real, and frightening. The public has a right to know. (Washington Post)
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