The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to issue a subpoena for documents to Blue Star Strategies, a public affairs firm that represented Burisma, a Ukrainian Gas company for which Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, once served on the board.
The subpoena, which passed by a vote of 8-6, marks the next step forward in the ongoing joint investigation into Burisma and possible wrongdoing by Hunter Biden being led by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Finance committees.
Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., criticized the committee for taking the vote Wednesday and tried in vain to have the vote delayed.
"This is not a serious bipartisan investigation in the tradition of this committee and I believe we should not be going down this dangerous route," Peters said. "This misguided subpoena risks amplifying efforts of our foreign adversaries to interfere in the 2020 election."
Several Democrats criticized Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., for holding the vote amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Johnson defended the decision.
“The question I would ask is, what is everybody worried about?” Johnson said after the vote. “If there’s nothing there, we’ll find out there’s nothing there. But if there’s something there, the American people need to know that.”
Johnson told reporters after the hearing concluded that the committee expects to issue an interim report on the investigation by sometime in June or before the Senate takes recess in August.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, was not physically present for the vote. He voted in favor of the subpoena by proxy, but much attention was given to his vote because he had previously cast doubt about whether he'd support the subpoena.
Earlier this week, Romney told reporters he was "looking at" the subpoena issue and did not commit to how he would vote. This is not the first time Romney has put the fate of a subpoena in the joint investigation into Burisma — led by Johnson and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa — on uncertain ground.
In March, Johnson signaled that his committee would pursue a subpoena for documents and testimony from Andriy Telizhenko, a former Ukranian Embassy official who consulted with Blue Star Strategies. Romney initially expressed concerns that a probe into Burisma was too "political" and signaled he could vote against the subpoena. He eventually committed to voting in favor of it after being assured that the subpoena would not be made into a "public spectacle."
But the final vote for that subpoena was never taken. Johnson told reporters in March there were discrepancies in evidence related to Telizhenko and said his committee would instead push on with the investigation into Burisma by issuing a subpoena directly to Blue Star Strategies.
Though the subpoena passed Wednesday, the motive of the Burisma probe has been highly criticized. Democrats pointed to the ratcheting up of the probe just as Biden was surging in the primary polls for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
During his floor remarks Wednesday, Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the committee meeting "slanders the family of the president's political opponent."
"Believe it or not, this powerful Senate committee with broad jurisdiction over so many aspects of the government's response to the ongoing pandemic is prioritizing yet another attempt to smear Vice President Biden," Schumer said. "The highest priority for Senate Republicans lies in promoting conspiracy theories that have already been discredited on numerous occasions."
And, in a rare statement on Senate matters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned Senate Republicans for efforts she said aimed at "smearing the President's political rivals" while the coronavirus pandemic continues.
"These Republican subpoenas are a clear act of retaliation and political retribution intended to help the President keep his job," Pelosi said in a statement. "It is sad that the GOP Senate has meekly and weakly chosen to be complicit in the President’s desperate and dangerous political tactics instead of passing legislation to save lives and livelihoods."
Trump’s efforts to have Ukraine investigate Hunter Biden’s role as a board member for Burisma were at the heart of House Democrats’ impeachment probe last year. The president asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens on a July phone call that was revealed by a whistleblower's complaint last fall.
Hunter Biden has maintained he has done nothing wrong.
The House impeached Trump in December for pressuring the Ukrainian government while withholding military aid to the country. The Senate acquitted him in February.
Senate Republicans are also launching a separate investigation, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday he supports, into the counterintelligence probe into whether the then-candidate and his campaign colluded with the Russians in 2016.
"Senate Republicans are taking steps to issue new subpoenas to a wide variety of Obama administration officials with some relationship to the abuses," McConnell said in a floor speech Tuesday, referencing errors made regarding the surveillance of a former Trump campaign official and the prosecution of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, which the Department of Justice has moved to dismiss. Flynn pleaded guilty under oath to lying to the FBI in late 2017. "The American people deserve answers about how such abuses could happen, and we intend to get those answers."
Democrats have also dismissed this probe, calling it a distraction from the coronavirus pandemic.
"The president is tweeting insane conspiracy theories, demanding that his water carriers of Capitol Hill make them look legitimate instead of focusing on testing capacity and policies to safely reopen our country," Schumer said Tuesday.