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Top GOP senator seeks subpoena for witness related to probe into Ukraine and Biden

Senators Attend Foreign Relations Committee Hearing On Ukraine
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) participates in a Senate Foreign relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, March 10, 2015 in Washington, DC.  Mark Wilson / Getty Images

The top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee is seeking to subpoena a witness tied to the investigation of Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian energy firm where Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, sat on its board, according to a letter obtained by CBS News.

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin sent a letter to committee members Sunday informing them of his intent to schedule a meeting during which they would consider a subpoena to Andrii Telizhenko, a former consultant for the U.S.-based government affairs firm Blue Star, for documents related to his work there. Blue Star "was a U.S. representative" for Burisma, Johnson said.

Telizhenko is a former Ukrainian diplomat at the center of claims Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

According to the letter, Telizhenko "expressed his willingness to 'cooperate fully'" with the Senate panel's investigation into the Bidens and Ukraine, but is subject to a nondisclosure agreement.

"As part of the committee's ongoing investigation, it has received U.S. government records indicating that Blue Star sought to leverage Hunter Biden's role as a board member of Burisma to gain access to, and potentially influence matters at, the State Department," Johnson wrote. The committee has not made records it received public.

Johnson said the committee's ranking member, Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, disapproves of issuing the subpoena and is "concerned that the United States Senate and this committee could be used to further disinformation efforts by Russians or other actors."  

According to the letter, the Republican-controlled committee "has been investigating matters related to Burisma for nearly a year." Congressional records indicate Peters' office was notified on February 24 of  Johnson's intent to issue the subpoena. In a letter to Johnson dated February 27, Peters expressed his disapproval of issuing the subpoena and said he requested the committee "receive defensive briefings — specifically regarding Mr. Telizhenko — from relevant intelligence community and law enforcement officials, to ensure the Senate is not used to advance any disinformation campaigns."

The Wisconsin senator wrote that he shares the concern, and said the FBI "provided a response that directly addressed the stated concerns. " The subpoena, he added, was "narrowly drafted" for records from Telizhenko's work for Blue Star as it relates to Burisma.

"The committee recently reviewed relevant State Department documents that corroborate records Mr. Telizhenko already produced to the committee, including correspondence with Blue Star officials not covered by his NDA," Johnson wrote.

Johnson questioned the apparent resistance to pursuing the matter, saying "[t]he American people have a right to know how their government officials conducted official business, whether certain parties received special treatment, and whether any apparent or actual conflict of interest unduly influenced U.S. policy."

It's unclear when the meeting to discuss a possible subpoena will take place, but Johnson said a vote on whether to approve the subpoena will be scheduled "in the near future."

Johnson, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham have been investigating ties between Democrats and Ukraine, including possible conflicts of interests between Burisma and the Bidens, for the last few months.

In early December, the three Republican senators requested records and transcribed interviews between Telizhenko and Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American Democratic operative. They have also sought information from five former Obama administration officials, including David Wade, former chief of staff to Secretary of State John Kerry, and Anthony Blinken, former U.S. deputy secretary of state.

Peters has dismissed efforts by the Republican chairmen to seek information on the unsubstantiated claim Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and said in a statement to CBS News on Monday that national security and intelligence experts, as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee, show Russia is attempted to interfere in the 2020 elections.

"We need to take every step to ensure the credibility and resources of the U.S. Senate are not used to advance interference efforts by foreign adversaries that seek to undermine our democracy or put our national security at risk," Peters said.

Here's the full letter from Johnson:

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