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Senate panel approves subpoena for consulting firm in Ukraine probe

GOP senator seeks subpoena on Biden, Ukraine
GOP senator seeks subpoena on Biden, Ukraine 05:05

Washington — A Senate panel on Wednesday authorized in a party-line vote a subpoena to a consulting firm that worked with Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian natural gas company that employed Hunter Biden and was at the center of events leading to President Trump's impeachment.

The subpoena to Blue Star Strategies, a Washington, D.C.,-based government affairs firm, is part of ongoing probes from three Republican-led Senate panels into ties between Democrats and Ukraine, including accusations of conflicts of interest between Burisma and the Bidens. Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden, served on Burisma's board of directors. 

Mr. Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate the company and the Bidens in July 2019, a request that formed the basis of House impeachment charges of abuse of power and obstruction last year. Mr. Trump was acquitted at trial in the Senate.

The subpoena compels Blue Star to turn over documents related to its work for Burisma and those associated with the Ukrainian energy company. It also requests depositions from two top officials with Blue Star related to that work. The vote by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to issue the subpoena, the first related to the investigation mounted by committee Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, was 8-6.

Karen Tramontano, co-founder and CEO of Blue Star Strategies, sent Johnson a letter Wednesday reiterating that her firm has agreed to cooperate with his committee and submitted written answers to its questions, as well as documents about meetings with the federal government regarding Burisma, in December. Tramontano said that since then, Blue Star has continued to provide additional answers and supporting documents, and has offered to be interviewed by the panel.

"At every opportunity we have indicated to the committee that it is our intention to cooperate," she wrote. "At no time have we ever stated or indicated in any way that we would not cooperate. Therefore, we are puzzled, despite our willingness to cooperate, why the committee is proceeding to vote on a subpoena."

Democrats on the panel contested the vote and accused their Republican Senate colleagues of prioritizing what they say is a partisan investigation over examinations into the handling of and response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is not a serious bipartisan investigation in the tradition of this committee, and I believe we should not be going down this dangerous road," Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on the committee, said before the vote.

Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire chided the committee for "spending its time on partisan nonsense and conspiracy theories." The vote, she added, "fails to further the health and economic well-being of the American people, which should without question be our focus right now."

Peters and the five other Democrats on the committee sent Johnson a letter Tuesday urging him to convene a hearing to examine the federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats have warned that by pursuing investigations into Burisma and the Bidens, Republicans are amplifying Russian disinformation and attempting to help Mr. Trump's reelection bid.

Johnson defended the vote, saying it was Democrats who suggested he subpoena Blue Star.

"This committee has obviously done all kinds of oversight," he said, adding the panel has focused extensively on the coronavirus crisis. "It was not my desire to even publicize these subpoenas. I just wanted to gather the information. I just wanted to make sure the American people understand the truth."

Senate Republicans and Mr. Trump have in recent days renewed their attacks on Biden and former President Barack Obama, alleging the Obama administration targeted the president and aides from his 2016 presidential campaign. Last week, Johnson and Senator Chuck Grassley, the head of the Senate Finance Committee, released a list of 39 officials, including Biden, who requested intelligence reports that "unmasked" Michael Flynn's identity in 2016 and 2017.

The Homeland Security Committee was supposed to hold a vote in March to subpoena Andrii Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat. But Johnson postponed the vote and indicated he would seek to subpoena Blue Staar instead.

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