Senate panel demands testimony from ex-Obama officials in revived Biden probe

A Senate committee is re-engaging former Obama administration officials as part of an investigation targeting Joe Biden’s son, demanding transcribed interviews and documents for the Republican-led probe.

The renewed scrutiny from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee comes amid intensifying efforts by President Donald Trump to target Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, over what the president and his allies portray as a corruption scandal that disqualifies the former vice president.

The panel, chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), sent letters this week to former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken; former Special Envoy for International Energy Amos Hochstein (though the letter referred to him by an informal title, as a former senior adviser on international energy affairs to Biden); former senior State Department officials Victoria Nuland and Catherine Novelli; and David Wade, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State John Kerry, a spokesperson for the committee confirmed.

The request this week — a follow-up from December, when the panel asked the same former officials for documents and testimony during the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s Ukraine dealings — followed the Tuesday release of former national security adviser John Bolton’s memoir, in which he confirmed that Trump withheld military assistance aid to Ukraine last year in exchange for the promise of an investigation targeting the Bidens.

And on Monday, Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani with links to Russian intelligence, held a press conference to announce the release of new recordings he says he obtained of then-Vice President Biden speaking to former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. It was the second such press conference he has held in just over a month. Derkach has long made unsubstantiated corruption accusations against Biden and his son, and the release of the tapes has echoes of Russia’s hacking-and-dumping operation in 2016 in an effort to tip the election to Trump.

The committee said the requests were part of an investigation into “whether certain officials within the Obama administration had actual or apparent conflicts of interest, or whether there was any other wrongdoing, because of Hunter Biden’s role in Rosemont Seneca and related entities, and as a board member of Burisma Holdings,” according to letters the panel’s chief counsel sent at the time.

Last month, the committee on a party-line vote authorized Johnson to issue a subpoena to Blue Star Strategies, a Democratic public-affairs firm, as part of the investigation. Johnson has zeroed in on allegations that the firm sought to leverage Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma in order to influence matters at the Obama-era State Department.

Democrats uniformly oppose the GOP-led investigation, dubbing it an effort to boost Trump’s reelection prospects. Others have gone further in their criticisms, saying the probe itself jeopardizes U.S. national security and contributes to Russian disinformation campaigns. The former GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr, privately warned Johnson that the investigation could aid the Kremlin’s efforts to sow chaos and distrust in the U.S. political system.

Johnson’s investigations have fueled raw partisan tensions in public committee meetings as well as behind closed doors. In March, senators got into heated arguments during a classified election-security briefing as Democrats asserted that Johnson was participating in Russia’s interference in U.S. elections.

Trump has openly encouraged the Senate’s investigations, including similar efforts to probe the origins of the Russia investigation and the actions of the Obama administration during the presidential transition period in late 2016 and early 2017. Johnson’s panel and the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), secured authorizations from Republican senators earlier this month to issue subpoenas as part of those probes to a slew of former Obama administration officials, many of whom have drawn Trump’s ire in recent years.

Democrats initiated impeachment proceedings last year over the effort to spur Ukraine-led investigations that would benefit the president politically, during which Trump’s legal team focused on Biden’s son Hunter and his role on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma while his father was vice president and in charge of Ukraine matters.

Trump's team presented no evidence that Biden used his role as vice president to benefit his son, nor alleged anything improper other than the “appearance of a conflict,” and allegations of wrongdoing have been widely discredited.

But Senate Republicans appear to be reviving the issue less than five months before election day — and Johnson has said he intends to release an interim report on the Biden probe over the summer, thrusting the issue back into the spotlight as the 2020 campaign kicks into high gear.

Johnson has insisted that the investigations have nothing to do with the election, though Trump’s reelection campaign has touted many of the revelations from Johnson, including a list of Obama White House officials who might have been involved in efforts that “unmasked” former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s name from intelligence intercepts. Biden’s name was on the list, but there is no evidence that he acted improperly, as Trump and his campaign have claimed.

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