Sen. Mitt Romney(R-UT) on Wednesday slammed fellow Republican Sen. Ron Johnson(R-WI) investigation into Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Ukrainian gas firm Burisma Holdings, saying it is “not the legitimate role of government” to work to “damage political opponents.”
On Monday, Johnson said the Senate Homeland Security Committee he chairs is poised to release a report aimed at Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden before the Nov. 3 election on Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine.
“Stay tuned. In about a week we’re going to learn a whole lot more of Vice President Biden’s unfitness for office,” Johnson said during a video conference with GOP supporters on Monday. “I don’t think it will reflect well on him.”
Romney expressed concerns about the Ukraine investigation being a political endeavor targeting Biden, claiming that Johnson was using the panel investigation as an “effort to damage political opponents.”
He pointed to the Wisconsin Senator earlier remarks, saying that the inquiry from the “outset had the earmarks of a political exercise,” while adding it is “not the legitimate role of government, for Congress or for taxpayer expense, to be used 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 at Wednesday’s committee meeting. “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.”
“Obviously, it is the province of campaigns and political parties’ opposition research, the media, to carry out political endeavors, to learn about or dust-up one’s opponent,” Romney added. “But it’s not the legitimate role of government or Congress, or for taxpayer expense to be used in an effort to damage political opponents.”
During the committee business meeting Wednesday, members voted along party lines, 8-6 to authorize 40 subpoenas related to the investigation into the origins of “Crossfire Hurricane,” the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The committee also authorized subpoenas for the Justice Department inspector general’s review of that investigation, the “unmasking” of U.S. persons affiliated with the 2016 Trump campaign and transition team records, as well as subpoenas for testimony and records from former Obama administration officials as part of its broader investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.
However, Johnson pulled the planned vote from the meeting’s agenda the vote to authorize an additional testimony from Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, to discuss Burisma and “actual or apparent conflicts of interest with U.S.-Ukraine policy.”
Romney praised the move, saying he was “pleased” the votes did not include any “additional authorizations” for the “Biden-Burisma” probe.
“I will continue that support as long as it does not fall in the realm of rank political undertaking. I do believe it’s very important that that the committees of Congress, and ours in particular, not fall into an increasing pattern that we’re seeing, which is using taxpayer dollars and the power of Congress to do political work. That’s the role of campaigns,” Romney said. “Therefore I am pleased that our votes today do not include additional authorizations relating to the Biden-Burisma investigation.”
The Utah Senator, despite his criticism of the probe, voted in favor of the subpoenas on the committee to subpoena Blue Star Strategies, the company connected to Burisma Holdings, as part of the panel’s probe. He told reporters after the vote the subpoenas allowed him to “get some protections” in the scope of the investigation.
“My vote today essentially is a reaffirmation of the subpoena,” Romney said.
Johnson spokesman Ben Voelkel issued this statement responding to Romney’s remarks, saying “the American people have the right to know” the facts of the investigation.
“This is Congress. Everything here has implications for politics and elections,” Voelkel said. “The Committee is expressly authorized to investigate conflicts of interest, and its investigation into Burisma and US-Ukraine policy began well before the Democratic nominee for President had been decided. The American people have the right to know what did and did not happen.”
Senate Democrats called foul and strongly objected to the inquiry, charging that Johnson is amplifying Russian propaganda to hurt Biden. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Gary Peters(D-MI) argued Wednesday that Johnson’s investigations were “designed to influence the presidential election.”
After Wednesday’s meeting, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer(D-NY) and Sen. Ron Wyden(OR-D), offered a resolution calling for “the cessation of any Senate investigation or activity that allows Congress to act as a conduit for Russian disinformation.”
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates accused Johnson of “wasting months diverting” the Homeland Security committee “away from any oversight of the catastrophically botched federal response to the pandemic” and that the chairman “admitted the true purpose of this sham: to bail out Donald Trump’s reelection campaign.”
“Why? To subsidize a foreign attack against the sovereignty of our elections with taxpayer dollars — an attack founded on a long-disproven, hardcore right-wing conspiracy theory that hinges on Senator Johnson himself being corrupt and that the Senator has now explicitly stated he is attempting to exploit to bail out Donald Trump’s re-election campaign,” Bates said.