Senate Republicans show little interest in new Biden probes

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch said Tuesday that he has no plans to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden over Ukraine, despite being urged to do so by a top Senate Republican and Donald Trump ally.

When asked if he was going to look into Biden’s role in the firing of Ukrainian prosecutor Victor Shokin — including whether it was done to protect Hunter Biden’s position at Burisma, a top Ukrainian natural gas company — Risch said it wasn’t something he was considering.

“I’ve got other things I’m doing right now, and I haven’t given it any thought,” Risch told reporters. And that's how most of his colleagues feel.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other GOP hardliners are pushing for a multi-pronged Biden probe by Senate panels, despite the fact that no evidence exists the former vice president was involved in any Ukraine coverup. Graham has said he's going to look into potential abuse of surveillance laws that led to the Russia probe by former special counsel Robert Mueller.

But there appears to be little appetite among other Senate Republicans for an extended effort to investigate Biden, who has already taken a political hit over the Hunter Biden controversy.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has been looking into the whistleblower process overall, although he is not specifically targeting the individual whose complaint triggered the Ukraine scandal.

And Burr acknowledged that he wasn’t trying to “re-litigate” the events that led to Trump’s impeachment.

“I’ve never conducted an investigation in public, and I’m not going to now,” Burr said when asked whether he planned to subpoena the whistleblower.

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) wouldn’t say whether he had any plans to subpoena the Bidens.

Johnson, though, said his focus was more on alleged efforts by Ukrainian officials to interfere in the 2016 election and whether there was any involvement of Obama administration officials. As with the alleged Biden coverup of Bursima, no evidence has emerged to show any such links, but Trump seized on the theories during his push to get Ukraine to pursue investigations that would help his political prospects.

“My concern is to really get to the bottom of DNC involvement, meetings in the White House in January 2016, that involved a certain NSC Ukraine specialist, and involved Ukrainian prosecutors. We have to get to the bottom of this,” Johnson said. Johnson and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have sought thousands of pages of internal documents from the Obama White House, but former President Barack Obama would have to agree to release this information, which doesn’t seem likely at this point.

The top Democrat on Foreign Relations, Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), said Republicans should focus on the real issues facing the country, not the Bidens.

“There’s a lot of things happening in the world that affect the national interest and security of the United States far more than any investigation of the Bidens,” Menendez said. “Looking at Russia, looking at China, looking at North Korea, Iran… It’s ridiculous.”

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Trump’s impeachment trial could extend into next week

The Senate impeachment trial for President Donald Trump could drag into next week, even as GOP leaders appear to have the votes needed to prevent additional witnesses and testimony from being offered, according to Republican senators and aides.

Republican sources suggest the trial could extend into Wednesday of next week. The House Democratic managers and the White House want more time for closing arguments, and there are scheduling concerns due to the Iowa caucuses on Monday and Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.

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Senate Republicans slam Democrats’ impeachment case as nothing new

Hours into the start of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Senate Republicans are claiming they’ve heard nothing new in the House managers’ case for removing Trump from office.

Trump’s defense team also sounded confident on Wednesday that the president would win acquittal at the earliest stages of the House Democrats' presentation. “The idea that this reaches the level of impeachment, legally speaking, is really absurd,” said Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lead personal attorney.

While the Senate GOP mantra isn’t surprising — numerous Republican senators have already expressed deep distrust of, if not outright opposition to, Democratic efforts to oust Trump — it shows the difficulty Democrats will face when they push for additional witnesses and evidence next week.

“We’ve just come out listening to, what, six hours of testimony, and I didn’t hear anything new,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters early Wednesday evening. “It still seems to me that this was an effort by the Democrats, in a very partisan way, to bring a case against President Trump because they didn’t like the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) also said he “didn’t hear anything new,” while Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said the impeachment push was really about Democratic efforts to win control of the Senate in November.

“The conclusion is a very simple one,” Scott asserted. “The goal of this entire process is not to remove the president from office. The goal is to remove certain Republican senators — Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa, Maine and Arizona — from office.”

Freshman GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri went even further: “I haven’t heard any evidence in there that the president’s done anything wrong.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead House manager, and his colleagues already knew that there was little chance they could persuade 67 senators to vote to convict Trump, given Republicans’ control of the body.

Yet their Senate Democratic colleagues had nothing but praise for Schiff and the six other managers as they opened their case. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Schiff’s two-hour statement a “tour de force,” while Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) said, “These managers are doing a great job putting those facts on the table.”

And maybe more important, the House Democrats’ efforts aren’t really aimed at trying to sway GOP hard-liners to vote against Trump. Instead, they’re trying to persuade a handful of swing Senate Republicans — a group that includes Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah, among others — to buck the president and their party leaders and support Democratic calls for additional witnesses or documents. After that, Democrats believe, the final vote on the impeachment articles will become a wild card, with possibly even a Senate majority voting to convict the president. Trump would then remain in office but would be damaged politically heading into Election Day.

Murkowski told reporters she was “still listening” as the Senate broke for dinner on Wednesday, while Collins and Romney weren’t available for comment yet.

Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

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