Romney to back subpoena of ex-Ukrainian official in Senate probe of Bidens, Burisma

The Utah Republican had expressed reservations about the subpoena as well as the Senate GOP investigation into the Bidens and Burisma.
Image: Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney arrives before President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP file

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell, Frank Thorp V and Julie Tsirkin

WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitt Romney will not block a subpoena of an ex-Ukrainian official in a Republican investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

The Utah Republican, who had expressed reservations about the subpoena and the investigation itself, announced Friday that he would vote to subpoena former Ukrainian embassy official Andriy Telizhenko after receiving assurances from Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., that any interview would not become a spectacle.

“Senator Romney has expressed his concerns to Chairman Johnson, who has confirmed that any interview of the witness would occur in a closed setting without a hearing or public spectacle,” Romney spokeswoman Liz Johnson said in a statement. “He will therefore vote to let the chairman proceed to obtain the documents that have been offered.”

The committee is scheduled to vote on subpoena Wednesday. The partisan makeup of the panel — eight Republicans and six Democrats — makes Romney’s support for the subpoena essential for it to advance out of committee; a tie vote would mean the motion would fail.

Following Romney's announcement, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Gary Peters, D-Mich., sent a letter to Johnson calling for Telizhenko to be questioned in a classified setting before a vote on the subpoena.

"This is a matter of national security, and I have called on Chairman Johnson to ensure that Committee members have the opportunity to hear from the experts in a classified setting before making a final decision on whether it is appropriate for the Committee to move forward with this investigation," Peters wrote.

Johnson has ramped up his investigation into Biden, who was vice president when his son sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, a situation that raised questions about any potential conflict of interest related to the senior Biden's efforts to effect U.S. anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, the day after Biden’s strong showing on Super Tuesday, Johnson announced that he planned to hold a committee vote on the subpoena.

Romney said Thursday that the committee's investigation into Hunter Biden and Burisma "appears political, and I think people are tired of these kind of political investigations, and would hope that if there's something of significance that needs to be evaluated, that it would be done by perhaps the FBI or some other agency that's not as political as perhaps a committee of our body."

Telizhenko is a former low-ranking official at the Ukraine embassy in Washington and ex-consultant for Blue Star Strategies, an American firm that Burisma previously hired to represent the company in the United States. He has been a key figure in pushing the narrative of alleged Obama administration corruption in Ukraine and alleged Ukraine interference in the 2016 election.

Hunter Biden's work for the Ukrainian energy company while his father worked to advance the Obama administration's anti-corruption policy toward Ukraine became a focus of President Donald Trump, whose efforts to get that country's government to probe the matter led to his impeachment.

Democrats have accused Johnson of running a political investigation intended to harm a leading presidential candidate.

“The investigation should not be part of what we’re doing at Homeland Security. There are too many other important issues that impact the security of our country like coronavirus and cyberattacks,” Peters said.

Johnson, a top Trump ally, dismissed the accusation that the probe is political in nature.

“We've been diligently pursuing this information, these truths for quite some time,” he told reporters this week. “So, you know, if things are breaking now, I can't control that. But these are questions that Joe Biden has never adequately answered. And if I were a Democrat primary voter, I'd want these questions satisfactorily answered before I cast my final vote."

Johnson is working with Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on the investigation. Some other Republicans have expressed skepticism about the probe, including Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who reversed course and said he would not use his committee to delve into the issue.

Trump is following the matter closely, retweeting a journalist who reported the news of the subpoena on Wednesday.

As part of the investigation, Johnson has received about 2,800 pages of requested documents from the State Department. He said he is waiting for the National Archives to turn over documents related to meetings between Obama administration officials, Ukrainian prosecutors and an ex-Democratic National Committee official, Alexandra Chalupa, who has denied allegations related to a conspiracy theory claiming U.S. election interference by Ukraine.

Johnson has also asked Attorney General William Barr to release several footnotes from Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report on alleged FISA abuses.