- The Washington Times - Monday, August 10, 2020

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden sought to put questions about his family’s history in Ukraine behind him in the presidential race, but Sen. Ron Johnson’s Russian probe isn’t letting it fade away.

Mr. Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has made it all but certain the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine will be back under the spotlight during the final sprint to Election Day as part of the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation of alleged contacts between Russia and President Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The Wisconsin Republican’s investigation recently entered a new phase when his committee issued the first subpoena in its probe, requesting records from FBI Director Christopher A. Wray related to the bureau’s Russia probe.

The subpoena seeks “all records related to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation” and seeks “all records provided or made available to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice for its review.”

Mr. Johnson plans to share some of the findings next month from the investigations, which include probing the lucrative deal Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden secured at Ukraine energy company Burisma Holdings while his father ran Obama administration efforts in that graft-riddled country.

It remains to be seen what the investigation will show, but what is clear is that Mr. Biden has been riding high in the polls, besting Mr. Trump both nationally and in key battleground states, and the return of the Ukraine storyline could give voters pause.

DOCUMENT: FBI subpoena

“Biden wants to make this election a referendum on Trump,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist. “To the extent that he has to deal with a congressional inquiry into his family’s business dealing, it could certainly be a distraction.

“If Congress turns up any smoke, you can have no doubt that Trump will fan the flames,” Mr. Conant said.

Kevin Sheridan, a Republican consultant, said Mr. Biden has “no answer for his family’s ties to Ukraine while he was leading official U.S. policy there.”

“Lucky for him, he doesn’t need one,” Mr. Sheridan said. “The press is completely uninterested in covering the issue.

“Republicans believe they have to create a moment,” he said. “Dragging Hunter Biden in front of Congress may be the only way to do it. It can’t hurt, but I wouldn’t hold my breath it will matter given the bigger issues at play in 2020.”

Democrats have accused Mr. Johnson of trying to smear Mr. Biden and of playing into the hands of Russia by giving more attention to debunked conspiracy theories pushed by the Kremlin.

“Johnson’s actions are of such concern to the CIA, according to news reports, that the agency has refused to brief him,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said in a Washington Post op-ed last week. “Think of it: Congress may become a forum for debunked conspiracy theories peddled by Kremlin proxies.”

Mr. Trump also has badgered the Bidens, drawing a stiff rebuke from Jill Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee’s wife, over the weekend.

“It is a total distraction,” Mrs. Biden said in an interview with CBS.

Mr. Johnson, meanwhile, is defending the probe, saying Mr. Blumenthal’s attacks are false.

He says Democrats and the media have shown an “almost maniacal devotion to ending the Trump presidency” and have “decided to weaponize a false ‘Russian disinformation’ narrative as a tool for attacking their political opponents.”

“We didn’t target Joe and Hunter Biden for investigation; their previous actions had put them in the middle of it,” he said in a memo last week.

“Many in the media, in an ongoing attempt to provide cover for former Vice President Biden, continue to repeat the mantra that there is ‘no evidence of wrongdoing or illegal activity’ related to Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board,” Mr. Johnson said. “I could not disagree more.”

Jeff Link, a Democratic strategist, said he doesn’t think the investigation will have a major influence on the race for The White House.

“Given Trump’s burning desire to change the narrative and insert himself every single day, I’m not sure Johnson and [Sen. Chuck] Grassley will get much oxygen,” Mr. Link said. “It is difficult for any story to linger for more than a few days.”

Mr. Link said voters tend to dismiss these sorts of charges.

“What we have found consistently in our research is that voters want to know what each candidate plans to do in the future,” he said. “How will you change Washington so it doesn’t just help the entrenched and powerful?”

“Trump made that argument in 2016 but he’s falling victim to it now,” he said.

The Democrat-led House voted to impeach Mr. Trump last year, accusing the president of abusing his power in trying to prod Ukraine into digging up dirt on the Bidens. The GOP-controlled Senate voted to acquit Mr. Trump earlier this year.

The elder Mr. Biden has said he did nothing wrong and that he and his son never discussed Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine.

Hunter Biden pocketed at least $3 million for a lucrative job on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company, at a time of heightened tension over Russia annexing Crimea.

In 2016, Mr. Biden had threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees unless the country’s leaders fired Ukraine’s top prosecutor over corruption issues. The prosecutor was also reportedly looking into issues at Burisma.

Mr. Biden’s campaign has pointed out that Mr. Johnson was among several U.S. senators who had backed the ouster of the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, over corruption issues.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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