Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) took a swing at Joe Biden on Wednesday, releasing a report that he has repeatedly vaunted as being catastrophically damaging for the former Vice President’s electoral hopes.
But it was a miss. The report — which purports to document the effect that Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma had on U.S. foreign policy — is a rehash of long-debunked allegations that served as the focus of President Trump’s impeachment last year.
But Senate Republicans summed up the result of their probe as well as anyone: “The extent to which Hunter Biden’s role on Burisma’s board affected U.S. policy toward Ukraine is not clear,” the report reads.
Beyond that, the report fails to add anything else in terms of new allegations or substantiation, though it does devote significant pages towards attacking “liberal media outlets” which reported that the probe was funneling Russian disinformation.
The farthest the report goes towards suggesting that other officials even reacted to Hunter Biden’s position on the board of Burisma is a quote from George Kent, a top State Department official who said in 2016 that the younger Biden’s position was “very awkward” for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv’s work in spurring the Ukrainian government to fight corruption.
In a statement, Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates accused Johnson of “subsidiz[ing] a foreign attack against the sovereignty of our elections with taxpayer dollars — an attack founded on a long-disproven, hardcore rightwing conspiracy theory that hinges on Sen. 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.”
Apart from restating the debunked allegations, Johnson also appears to have received documents from the U.S. Treasury that point to financial transactions involving Hunter Biden. Johnson takes the allegations on a particularly salacious route, saying that the Treasury docs show Biden’s son paying for “prostitution services.”
The report offers no other information about the source of the information about the transactions or any corroboration from financial institutions of the information.
Johnson has been conducting the investigation with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who began the probe last year during the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s withholding of military aid to Ukraine in exchange for opposition research help.
The investigation itself attempts to provide opposition research, and ramped up this year as Biden surged forward in the Democratic primary.
The GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee found last month that those allegations — which Republicans have cast as explaining that Ukraine was the true source of interference in the 2016 election — are part of a Russian intelligence campaign to deflect from its own involvement in attacking that same election.
Chief in that campaign has been Ukrainian MP Andrii Derkach, who was sanctioned this month by the U.S. Treasury for attempting to interfere in the 2020 election. Derkach has advanced similar theories around Biden and Burisma.
Johnson denied in the report that his investigation had taken any information from Derkach, saying instead that “it is impossible that Derkach’s efforts could have shaped the Committees’ investigation in any way.”
Johnson relied in drafting the report in at least one Ukrainian who has been accused of peddling Russian disinformation: Andrii Telizhenko, who appears 42 times in the report and who provided investigators with documents and information and who was a main source for the Politico report.
Telizhenko, who Johnson described as “the Democrats’ personification of Russian disinformation,” worked for D.C. lobbying firm Blue Star Strategies at the same time that the company had Burisma as a client.
But Johnson failed to provide any connection between the two or explain why that information is meaningful or relevant. Instead, he complained that Democrats “obstructed” this portion of the investigation, saying that “Ranking Members have not expressed any curiosity about [Telizhenko]’s work with the Obama administration or Blue Star Strategies.”
Johnson himself has spent months battling Democrats and members of the Republican Senate caucus to push through the investigation, while announcing his intention to damage Biden’s candidacy through the probe.
Much of that has come down to Telizhenko’s involvement, which raised counterintelligence concerns from the Democratic minority but also hindered support for the probe on the Republican majority.
A significant part of the Wednesday report is devoted to defending Johnson from those accusations and to exonerating Telizhenko.
For example, Republican lawmakers wrote that “the Obama administration and the Democrat lobby shop Blue Star Strategies had consistent and extensive contact with Andrii Telizhenko over a period of years,” referring to Telizhenko’s time at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington during the Obama administration and his previous work as a secretary for a Ukrainian politician, where he helped schedule meetings with U.S. officials.
That contact with Obama officials, in Johnson’s view, exonerates Telizhenko of any current accusation of being a sieve for Russian disinformation.
“This is a good-government oversight investigation that relies on documents and testimony from U.S. agencies and officials, not a Russian disinformation campaign, as our Democratic colleagues have falsely stated,” the report states.
Senate Democrats raised a host of objections to the report, saying that Johnson had violated procedural rules and that it was more important for the Republican major “to get their political messaging out than for them to get any semblance of the truth out”
“The effort is clearly to smear the Bidens with innuendo,” one of the aides added.