“We had a number of my committee members that were highly concerned about how this looks politically,” he says.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chair Ron Johnson suggested Wednesday that fellow Republicans on his committee were blocking him from subpoenaing former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan and other figures involved in the investigation of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and its contacts with Russia — even though the panel gave him the unilateral power to do so in the spring.
“We had a number of my committee members that were highly concerned about how this looks politically,” the Wisconsin GOP senator told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who pressed Johnson to identify Republicans standing in the way of a wave of high-profile subpoenas.
Johnson emphasized that he needs the unanimous support of his committee’s eight Republicans to advance any subpoenas — one defection would likely result in a 7-7 deadlock with the committee’s six Democrats. “If I lose one, I lose the vote,” Johnson said.
Hewitt repeatedly asked Johnson to name the Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security Committee who would oppose subpoenaing Comey.
“Hugh, I’m just not going to be naming names that way,” Johnson replied.
“If there’s a senator who is blocking a subpoena, we need to know who that is so we throw them out,” Hewitt said later.
But Johnson did not mention that Comey, Brennan and other senior Obama administration intelligence community leaders were included in a list of officials that Johnson was given blanket authority to subpoena in June. Asked about the discrepancy, committee officials acknowledged that no committee Republicans are blocking Johnson from issuing subpoenas, attributing the exchange with Hewitt to a misunderstanding. Johnson, a spokesman said, “is committed to running a thorough investigation.”
“Committee members want Chairman Johnson to attempt to get voluntary compliance, and also to be fully prepared for interviews by obtaining necessary documents, before compelling testimony,” the spokesman said. “Chairman Johnson has been working for months to gather documents and information from witnesses on a voluntary basis, but will subpoena witnesses when necessary — and as he has mentioned, his patience is wearing thin.”
During his interview with Hewitt, Johnson mentioned that some of the figures Hewitt pressed him on were also under the jurisdiction of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is leading a parallel investigation into the Russia probe.
Johnson, who said he’s working on the investigation “non-stop,” also refused to commit to calling a vote on a Comey subpoena the next time his committee meets. “Not on a radio show, Hugh. Sorry,” Johnson said, prompting Hewitt to demand an apology from Johnson “to the American people.”
The interview underscores the degree to which there’s a reluctance among some Senate Republicans to advance an investigation that Democrats have viewed as a conduit for foreign disinformation aimed at former Vice President Joe Biden less than three months before the election as well as to amplify allegations of corruption by the FBI in its Trump-Russia probe. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the eight Republicans on Johnson’s panel, raised concerns about the investigation’s political overtones in the spring, though he ultimately has backed some of the panel’s subpoena requests.
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