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Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, hinted Wednesday that fellow Republicans were blocking him from issuing subpoenas for fired FBI Director James Comey and former CIA Director John Brennan as well as others linked to spying on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, though they gave him unilateral authority to do so earlier this year.
“We had a number of my committee members that were highly concerned about how this looks politically,” the Wisconsin GOP senator told talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, who asked him to identify the Republicans who were now obstructing him.
Johnson noted that it takes unanimous support from the committee’s majority Republicans — all eight — in order to issue subpoenas. Just one ‘no’ vote would result in a 7-7 deadlock with the panel’s six Democrats.
“If I lose one, I lose the vote,” Johnson said.
Hewitt continued pressuring Johnson to identify the recalcitrant GOP member or members, but he refused to do so.
“Hugh, I’m just not going to be naming names that way,” Johnson insisted.
But Hewitt was adamant. “If there’s a senator who is blocking a subpoena, we need to know who that is so we throw them out,” he said.
Johnson was given authority by the committee in June to issue subpoenas for 32 people allegedly connected to the ‘Spygate’ counterintelligence operation launched against then-GOP candidate Donald Trump, some say as early as 2015, shortly after he declared his candidacy.
Comey and Brennan are on the list, along with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former top FBI lawyer James Baker, former FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
The panel’s Republicans authorized Johnson to issue subpoenas to the FBI, State Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Committee officials told Politico, however, that no Republican members are standing in the way of Johnson issuing subpoenas, noting that the exchange with Hewitt was simply a misunderstanding. A spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican said that Johnson “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 noted.
“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.”
Johnson noted during his interview with Hewitt that some GOP members the host asked him about also fall under Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) jurisdiction; his panel is conducting a separate investigation into the ‘Russian collusion’ investigation.
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was the Judiciary Committee’s first witness. She appeared voluntarily last week.
In addition, the Justice Department is conducting its own criminal investigation into the origins of the ‘Spygate’ counterintelligence probe. That inquiry is being led by Connecticut-based U.S. Attorney John Durham.
In December, Durham released a rare public statement refuting a conclusion by the DoJ’s Office of Inspector General that said the FBI had justification for opening the probe into the Trump campaign.
As for Johnson, one GOP member of the panel —Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah — raised concerns in the spring that the committee’s investigation may seem politicized during an election year, Politico reported. That concern came as Democrats criticized Johnson’s investigation as being aimed primarily at discrediting presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, who was recently directly linked to at least one aspect of the Spygate probe.
The Wisconsin Republican also said that GOP resistance delayed his intention to subpoena Blue Star Strategies, a Democrat-linked public relations firm that was hired by Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company on which Hunter Biden served as a board member during his father’s vice presidency.
Johnson also said lengthy criminal probes and the COVID-19 pandemic delayed his committee from obtaining essential documents from the FBI, which he deemed critical before calling any witnesses.
The committee chair told Hewitt he doesn’t want to put on a “show trial,” but rather, he wants to conduct a serious inquiry and he can’t do that without documents the panel members need so they can ask legitimate questions.
Johnson also said that he’s working on the investigation “almost nonstop,” and that he has met a number of times with Attorney General William Barr, but not Durham. He also said he doesn’t know if Durham has convened a grand jury.