World Food Program USA Board Chairman Hunter Biden speaks at the World Food Program USA’s Annual McGovern-Dole Leadership Award Ceremony at Organization of American States on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Paul Morigi | Getty Images
A Republican-controlled Senate committee probing issues related to apparent Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son Hunter voted Wednesday to authorize a subpoena to a public relations firm despite the company’s saying it has cooperated with all information requests to date.
The vote came as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., accused his GOP counterparts of trying to help President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign by engaging in “phony investigations.”
“Senate Republicans are not just ignoring the coronavirus, they’re practically sprinting towards a partisan election, making this chamber part of a re-election campaign, not what it was ever intended to be by the founding fathers or anyone else until this fever to bow down to President Trump’s wild conspiracy theories has overtaken just about every Senate Republican,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
On Wednesday, the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted, against the opposition of panel Democrats, to authorize chairman Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin to issue a subpoena to the PR firm Blue Star Strategies.
Blue Star had done work for a Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma Holdings. Hunter Biden sat on Burisma’s board until leaving it last year.
Republicans are investigating whether Blue Star Strategies tried to exploit Hunter Biden’s connection to Burisma when his father was serving as President Barack Obama’s vice president to “gain access to and potentially influence U.S. government agencies,” according to Johnson.
Johnson told reporters that he would like to release a report on the Burisma investigation in June.
In a letter to Johnson earlier Wednesday, Blue Star’s CEO Karen Tramontano said that the firm in early December “responded immediately and agreed to cooperate” when Johnson asked for the company’s assistance with the probe.
Tramontano wrote that the firm in mid-December “submitted answers in writing to the Committee’s questions and we provided documents about our meetings with the U.S. Government regarding Burisma.”
She noted that in mid-March, Blue Star was asked “to provide additional information.” But the coronavirus outbreak and a “stay at home” order in Washington, D.C. delayed its response to that request, she wrote.
Earlier this week, Tramontano wrote, “we provided answers and additional supporting documents to all the Committee’s question outlined in your December 3, 2019, letter.”
She noted that the committee then “expanded its request” and asked for additional documents. That information was provided Tuesday, she wrote.
“At every opportunity we have indicated to the Committee that it is our intention to cooperate,” Tramontano wrote. “At no time have we ever started or indicated that we would not cooperate,”
“Therefore, we are puzzled, despite our willingness to cooperate, why the Committee is proceeding to vote on a subpoena.”
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., included the letter in a Twitter post that called the committee’s vote “a political show.”
Burisma and Hunter Biden’s connection to it were central issues in Trump’s impeachment last year by the Democratic-led House of Representatives.
Trump and his associates last summer pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce investigations into allegations against the Bidens and a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee , on Wednesday said that continuing the probe into Hunter Biden during the Covid-19 pandemic “makes no sense whatsoever.”
“Over 90,000 people who have lost their lives, we’ve got an unprecedented amount of unemployment that’s sweeping across the country, we need to be focused on the crisis,” Peters said.
But Austin Alternberg, spokesman for the GOP majority on the committee, said in an email to CNBC, “A bipartisan group of committee members suggested that we subpoena Blue Star Strategies, so we authorized that today.”
“The fact is Blue Star has delayed our efforts for more than five months, and even refused to let our staff speak to their attorney until last week – despite the fact that he was speaking with the Ranking Member’s staff,” Alternberg said.
“Their only real efforts came after we noticed this markup, and we know even those have been woefully incomplete,” he added. “The American people deserve to know the extent to which the U.S.-based, Democrat-led consulting company leveraged its connections within the Obama administration to try to gain access to and influence U.S. government agencies on behalf of its corrupt client, Burisma. We are looking forward to receiving a full response to all of our questions.”
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Joe Biden’s campaign, told CNBC in an email, “We’re in the middle of the worst public health and economic crisis in a century, and what is Senator Johnson focused on? Running a political errand for Donald Trump by wasting Homeland Security Committee time and resources attempting to resurrect a craven, previously-debunked smear against Vice President Biden.”
“Then again, this is consistent with how Senator Johnson has callously downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak while the death toll rises,” Bates said. “He’s said that ‘getting coronavirus is not a death sentence except for maybe no more than 3.4 percent of our population,’ as if the deaths of more than 11 million Americans would simply not be his problem.”
“Even after getting nationally eviscerated for those remarks, he went on to say that ‘every premature death is a tragedy, but death is an unavoidable part of life,’ ” Bates wrote.
“Senator Johnson should be working overtime to save American lives — but instead he’s just trying to save the President’s job.”