GOP Sen. Mitt Romney on Wednesday slammed the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s investigation into Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Ukrainian natural gas firm Burisma Holdings, saying it is “not the legitimate role of government” to work to “damage political opponents.”
During a committee meeting Wednesday, members voted to authorize a slew of subpoenas for testimony and records from former Obama administration officials, including former CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, as part of its investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.
The panel is also leading an investigation into potential conflicts of interest related to Burisma and Hunter Biden.
But Romney, R-Utah, suggested the committee, led by Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., was using its probe in an effort to “damage” political opponents.
“I know the committee has undertaken two major investigations [that have] political implications and one, of course, is the, I’ll call it the Biden/Burisma investigation,” Romney said. “And that, I think, from the outset had the earmarks of a political exercise and I’m fearful that comments made in the media recently have only confirmed that perspective.”
Romney went on to say that “obviously, it’s the province of campaigns and political parties, opposition research, the media, to carry out political endeavors to learn about or dust up at one’s opponent.”
“But it is not the legitimate role of government, for Congress or for taxpayer expense, to be used in an effort to damage political opponents,” Romney said, adding that he was “pleased” that Wednesday’s votes did not include any further “authorizations” for the “Biden Burisma” probe.
The Biden campaign reacted to Romney’s comments, slamming Johnson and Republicans on the panel for focusing on what they referred to as a “sham” investigation.
“Sen. Johnson cannot refute this because he himself has explicitly admitted that Sen. Romney is correct, saying that his charade ‘would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection’ and that it will speak to ‘Vice President Biden’s unfitness for office,’” Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.
“Additional Republican senators have sounded the alarm about this sham, saying that it would play into Russia’s hands,” Bates continued. “It is disgraceful enough for the chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to dismiss the worst public health crisis in generations and abandon oversight of the failed federal response to the pandemic.”
He added: “But to instead subsidize a foreign influence operation against the sovereignty of our elections with American taxpayer dollars, all in a vain attempt to resuscitate a conspiracy theory that hinges on Sen. Johnson himself being corrupt, is tragic malfeasance.”
Despite Romney’s comments Wednesday, in May, he voted alongside his Republican colleagues on the committee to subpoena Blue Star Strategies – a company connected to Burisma Holdings, as part of the panel’s probe.
Johnson had announced earlier this year his plans to subpoena Blue Star Strategies for records to review potential conflicts of interest in Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma, and whether individuals at the firm improperly used the relationship with former Vice President Joe Biden’s son to “influence” U.S. government agencies.
Hunter Biden joined Burisma in April 2014 and, at the time, reportedly connected the firm with Blue Star to help the Ukrainian natural gas firm fight corruption charges. At the time of Biden’s work on the board, then-Vice President Biden was running U.S.-Ukraine relations and policy for the Obama administration.
Biden’s work for Burisma received heightened scrutiny amid Trump’s impeachment last year.
Trump, during his now-infamous July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, pressed for Kiev to look into the elder Biden's role pressing for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor who had been investigating the founder of Burisma. Allies of Biden maintain that his intervention at the time had nothing to do with his son, but rather was tied to corruption concerns. According to reports, by the time of Biden's intervention, the Burisma probe had been dormant.
Trump's pressure campaign against Ukraine prompted a whistleblower complaint, and, in turn, the impeachment inquiry.
The president’s request came after millions in U.S. military aid to Ukraine had been frozen, which Democrats cited as a quid pro quo arrangement.
Trump was acquitted on both articles of impeachment – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – in February.
But Johnson isn’t alone in investigating Burisma and potential conflicts of interest.
In December 2019, Johnson and GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, launched an investigation, requesting information on potential conflicts of interest and political influence by Ukraine, including Burisma Holdings.
Meanwhile, Romney did say Wednesday that he thought it was “important” that the committee’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe “focus on the specific wrongdoing alleged by the inspector general’s report.”
“My vote today essentially is a reaffirmation of the subpoena,” Romney said.
The committee on Wednesday held a business meeting to authorize subpoenas for records, and for the testimony of individuals, relating to the panel’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation, the Justice Department inspector general’s review of that investigation, and the “unmasking” of U.S. persons affiliated with the 2016 Trump campaign, transition team and the Trump administration.
The committee voted 8-6 to authorize the subpoenas.
The committee also authorized subpoenas for former White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal, former Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough, former FBI counsel Lisa Page, former FBI agent Joe Pientka, former Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, former FBI Director of Counterintelligence Bill Priestap, former White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith – who pleaded guilty to making a false statement in the first criminal case arising from U.S. Attorney John Durham's review of the investigation into links between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign – among others.
The committee further authorized subpoenas for “the production of all records” related to the FBI’s original Russia investigation and the Department of Justice Inspector General’s probe, as well as the process of “unmasking” for former FBI counsel James Baker, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, DOJ official Bruce Ohr, FBI case agent Steven Somma, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Teftt, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Tashina Gauhar, and reported FBI informant Stefan Halper.
The committee, earlier this summer, authorized subpoenas for the majority of the individuals that were named. But on Wednesday, after a back-and-forth between Johnson and the top Democrat on the panel, the committee gave the final go ahead, leaving authority on timing and scheduling of depositions and issuance of subpoenas up to the chairman.