The report relies on vague assessments that have already become public – namely, by George Kent, a senior State Department official, who said Hunter Biden’s role on the board of directors of a Ukrainian energy company was “very cumbersome for US officials engaged in anti-corruption policies ” in Ukraine. Kent made a similar remark during his impeachment certificate last fall.
The report also highlights a year-long New York article describing a conversation between Biden and a top advisor about his son’s role on the board of directors of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, but notes that the article provided no evidence of how Biden responded. Aide Amos Hochstein, a former special envoy on international energy in Barack Obama̵
The GOP senators have been investigating allegations that a Democratic public relations firm, Blue Star Strategies, attempted to sway the Obama-era State Department by using Hunter Biden’s role on the board of directors of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company. Trump has urged Republicans to use their investigative powers to investigate his political rivals.
The investigation, in which the members of the Johnson-chaired Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee were not supported by a majority, found that two officials, including Kent, accused Biden of conflicts of interest while he was serving as vice president. The report says Hunter Biden’s role “casts a shadow over US and Ukraine politics” but provides no evidence that US foreign policy has been influenced.
Prior to the report’s release, Democrats expressed concern that Johnson would not honor a recent committee vote to publish all witness interview transcripts alongside the report, except in cases where classified information might be revealed. Johnson’s staff did not immediately publish full transcripts on Wednesday, only quoting from testimony in the report, often without full context.
Democrats, led by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) And Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Should publish their own report refuting the GOP’s assessments.
The Johnson-Grassley Report devotes 10 of its 87 pages to criticism of democratic attacks and media coverage of the investigation, including several by POLITICO. And it ends with the statement that “there is still a lot to be done”, citing the lack of compliance by the executive branch.
Claims that the Democratic firm Blue Star Strategies attempted to sway the State Department during the Obama administration follow the argument made by Trump’s attorneys during Trump’s defense against impeachment in January that he abused his power by acting pressured the Ukrainian leaders to investigate Biden and his son. Johnson ramped up his Biden-aimed probe during the impeachment investigation of the House, and although it briefly disappeared from view when Biden’s presidential candidacy appeared to be stuttering, he reinforced it again in February after Biden got into an argument again.
Trump’s allies claim Biden, who led anti-corruption efforts for the Obama administration in Ukraine, forced the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating Burisma while Hunter Biden was on the board. However, senior State Department witnesses repeatedly discredited this claim, stressing that Biden’s removal of the prosecutor, who was widely viewed as corrupt, was an official US policy and, in fact, made it more likely that Burisma would face a serious corruption investigation.
Nonetheless, Johnson pursued allegations, even amid increasing warnings – including from some Republicans – that some of the actors who maintain the same narrative were doing so at the behest of Russia, which intelligence officials say will intervene in the 2020 election to vilify Biden.
As a result, Johnson’s investigation has become mired in growing controversy. Democrats have accused Johnson of supporting Vladimir Putin’s attack on the American elections, an indictment that has increased in effectiveness after the Treasury Department sanctioned pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach, calling him a Russian agent who fomented false stories about Biden . Senators have openly clashed in secret settings over Johnson’s probe.
In the report, Johnson and Grassley deny the idea that Derkach’s material or evidence allegedly collected was included in their report.
“Since the offices of Chairman Johnson and Chairman Grassley did not receive and were unaware of the information Derkach allegedly provided, it is impossible that Derkach’s efforts could in any way have affected the committees’ investigation,” they wrote.
Johnson’s allegations against the Bidens echo the allegations made by Derkach, who sent Johnson and other Trump allies on Capitol Hill information packets about Biden. But Johnson’s office has denied that the senator received anything from Derkach or relied on his claims. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has met with Derkach trying to initiate an investigation into the Bidens led by the Ukrainian government – an effort that Trump ultimately indicted by the House.
Derkach has released leaked tapes of phone calls between Biden and former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, none of which endorsed the narrative that Derkach advanced but which fueled fears of a high-level conspiracy. Trump has expanded reports on these tapes despite intelligence agency warnings about Derkach.
In a statement, Andrew Bates, spokesman for the Biden campaign, said Johnson “wasted months” investigating the Bidens amid the coronavirus pandemic. He said Johnson attempted “to subsidize a foreign attack on the sovereignty of our elections with taxpayers’ money – an attack based on a long-disproved, right-wing conspiracy theory.”
The report also contains nearly 100 quotes from 14 “confidential documents” in long passages describing Hunter Biden’s business relationships with personalities such as the wife of the former mayor of Moscow. It is unclear whether the documents relate to bank statements, government records, or other materials that could provide a roadmap for the committee’s investigation into the former vice president’s son.
Despite the release of an interim report, which Johnson referred to as an “interim report” on Wednesday, he has faced several obstacles in the past few months.
Earlier this year, Johnson attempted to summon Andriy Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat who had made unsubstantiated claims about Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 elections. But he ultimately scrapped the subpoena after the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force informed the committee’s advisers about Telizhenko, which caused republicans to feel uneasy.
For months, Johnson pushed back on the idea that his probe should help Trump politically. More recently, he has confirmed this suspicion.
“People need to look at this report very carefully and understand the consequences of electing Joe Biden as president,” Johnson said on a local radio program Tuesday, the day before the report was released.
Indeed, some of Johnson’s Republican colleagues have criticized the investigation as a political exercise, including Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who sits on the Homeland Security Committee. Romney was the only Republican to vote to condemn Trump during the Senate impeachment process.
“It is not the government’s legitimate role for Congress or taxpayers to harm political opponents,” Romney said last week.
Other Republicans have distanced themselves from Johnson’s actions, refusing to defend the investigation but refusing to openly criticize them. POLITICO previously reported that Senator Richard Burr (RN.C.), the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, privately confronted Johnson about the investigation and told the Wisconsin Republican that it could aid Russia’s efforts to meddle in elections.
Even so, Johnson moved on when Trump’s allies pressured him to keep the heat on the Bidens. Johnson has also launched a separate investigation, focusing on the Obama administration’s actions during the president’s transition period, stemming from the FBI’s 2016 counter-espionage investigation that targeted the Trump campaign.