WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are ramping up investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden, announcing two developments Wednesday in probes that could cast a shadow over the apparent Democratic presidential nominee.
The escalation comes as President Donald Trump and his allies have ratcheted up their attacks on the Obama administration in recent days.
Democrats say the investigations into Biden are a politically motivated attempt to distract from the president’s uneven handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Polls show Biden leading Trump nationally and in key battleground states.
As the Senate returns to Washington amid the pandemic, Republicans are vowing to aggressively pursue at least two separate investigations involving Biden during his time as vice president.
Biden is one of nearly three dozen Obama administration officials who requested the name of an unidentified American under surveillance, also known as “unmasking,” during the Trump transition after the 2016 election. The individual “unmasked” was Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
That information was classified until Wednesday, when Trump’s acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell and Barr declassified the information, giving it to Senate Republicans.
“The officials listed should confirm whether they reviewed this information, why they asked for it and what they did with it, and answer many other questions that have been raised by recent revelations,” GOP Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Chuck Grassley of Iowa said in a statement.
Flynn plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations during the Trump transition with Russia’s ambassador, but Barr directed federal prosecutors last week to drop the charges against Flynn. The judge in Flynn’s case has since intervened.
Trump on Wednesday called the significance of the “unmasking” list “massive” and hinted that “even bigger stories” will come out.
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said the documents show legitimate concern about Flynn’s actions, not an attempt to spy on the forthcoming administration.
“These documents simply indicate the breadth and depth of concern across the American government — including among career officials — over intelligence reports of Michael Flynn’s attempts to undermine ongoing American national security policy through discussions with Russian officials or other foreign representatives,” Bates said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he might open probes into the matter.
And Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., directly accused Biden of spying on the incoming Trump administration, floating an unfounded allegation that Biden directed the unmasking. And he vowed that the issue will not go away, pledging to investigate Biden in his Homeland Security subcommittee.
“This is incredibly troubling and shocking that the previous administration under President Obama under Vice President Biden's specific instruction was eavesdropping on an American, and an American adviser to the next President,” Paul said at a hastily convened news conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York questioned the Republicans’ intent.
“What alternative universe do they live in, spending their time on discredited conspiracy theories against Obama, against Biden, instead of dealing with the greatest crisis we have had in America in decades and decades and decades? What universe are they in? What is in their heads?" Schumer said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on Wednesday.
Separately, Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, is advancing a second investigation that stems from the impeachment of Trump.
Johnson will move to subpoena Blue Star Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm that represented the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, on whose board Biden’s son Hunter served.
“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 and potentially influence U.S. government agencies on behalf of its corrupt client, Burisma,” Johnson’s spokesman, Austin Altenburg, said in a statement.