Two key witnesses in Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) probe into corruption allegations involving presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter are unlikely to appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee before the 2020 presidential election even if subpoenaed, according to an individual familiar with the matter and another individual with knowledge of the probe.
Johnson, the chair of the Senate committee, is leading two separate but related investigations, one into the origins of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and one into Joe Biden’s former dealings in Ukraine and Hunter Biden’s financial relationship with Burisma, a gas company in the country. Johnson told The Hill he plans to publish a report on the Biden probe in the coming weeks, possibly by mid-September.
Staffers working on that investigation have interviewed numerous witnesses, including David Wade, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State John Kerry, and Liz Zentos, a foreign service officer working at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. Zentos formerly served as the Eastern Europe director for the National Security Council, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Johnson is expected to move to issue subpoenas for two other witnesses, former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Amos Hochstein, a former energy adviser for then Vice President Biden. Per committee rules, Johnson would have to officially inform Democrats of his intention to issue the subpoenas. The ranking member, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), would have 72 hours to disapprove, which would trigger a committee vote. One individual familiar with the matter said Republicans on the committee, in anticipation of Peters’ disapproval, have in recent weeks honed in on securing the vote of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).
“We are not commenting on our ongoing discussions with potential witnesses,” a spokesperson for Johnson said.
If the subpoenas are issued, individuals familiar with the matter say Hochstein and Blinken are unlikely to appear for questioning before the November election, particularly given recent acknowledgment by Democrats and by senior officials in the Trump administration that the probe involves materials from a known disinformation peddler. Those individuals pointed to a recent statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that highlighted ongoing Russian efforts to interfere in the 2020 presidential election, specifically to “undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy.” The statement pointed to Andriy Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker with close ties to Russia who has previously met with President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
“Pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption—including through publicizing leaked phone calls—to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party,” the statement said. “Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”
For weeks now Democrats have accused Johnson and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is leading his own probe into the FBI investigation of Russia meddling in the 2016 election, of relying on information compiled by Derkach to help inform the probe. Johnson has consistently denied the allegations.
On Friday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) published an op-ed in The Washington Post, claiming the Trump administration “is keeping the truth about a grave, looming threat to democracy hidden from the American people.” Blumenthal specifically referenced his attendance at classified briefings on attempts by foreign countries, including Russia, to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. “The facts are chilling,” he said, pointing to Johnson’s probe into the Bidens as a “forum for debunked conspiracy theories peddled by Kremlin proxies.”
On Monday, Johnson released an 11-page letter explaining the two probes and defending the investigation into the Bidens. Johnson called out Blumenthal for his Post op-ed, saying the Connecticut senator’s allegations about him receiving materials from Derkach are unfounded.
“It is neither me, Chairman Grassley, nor our committees that are being used to disseminate Russian disinformation,” Johnson wrote. “Instead, it is Democrats and the media that have been doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s work for him.”
Johnson and Grassley signaled in a letter last week that they have received information from Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat who has worked closely with Giuliani. Telizhenko was previously involved in the release of recordings and transcripts of Biden and former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Telizhenko told the Post in July there would be additional call leaks this summer.