Ron Johnson's Homeland Security Committee may investigate the Bidens and Ukraine

There’s no indication from this WaPo story if he’s doing it at Trump’s behest or because he’s independently intent on getting to the bottom of the Burisma matter. But either way, their interests align. Here’s Trump this afternoon…

…and here’s the Post reporting on the mood among Senate Republicans today, with some reportedly “stunned” by the transcript of the call between Trump and Zelensky (it was a “huge mistake” to release it, said one) and others eager to steer the conversation towards the Bidens. None is more eager than Ron Johnson, reportedly.

One early divide among Senate Republicans is between the “Burr camp” and the “Johnson camp,” according to two senior GOP aides who were not authorized to speak publicly, referring to Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Burr’s faction of the Senate GOP has a darker, frustrated view of Trump’s handling of Ukraine, while Johnson’s wing is more focused on probing Biden, the aides said…

Johnson, meanwhile, told colleagues he would consider investigating Biden and Ukraine and said he took those issues seriously — a position that was strongly encouraged by several allies of Trump at the lunch, according to three people familiar with the conversations. When asked for comment late Tuesday about those discussions, Johnson said in a statement, “We have and will continue to gather information and conduct oversight on alleged misconduct within government agencies.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said, “Biden is the one who threatened Ukraine’s aid, not Trump, and that has to be investigated.”

It’s a no-brainer. Investigating Biden would be “on brand” for the Trump-era GOP in that the president’s instinct whenever he’s accused of wrongdoing is to ask about the accuser’s wrongdoing. He fights, so naturally he’d want to go on offense while the Democrats momentarily have him on the defensive. Plus, Hunter Biden’s hiring by Burisma really does seem dubious from the outside, a potential case of influence peddling by bringing in the vice president’s son. And Joe Biden serving as the Obama White House’s enforcer against the Ukrainian prosecutor despite the prosecutor’s prior interest in Burisma reeks of a conflict of interest and has the appearance of impropriety. It’s not wrong to wonder if there’s evidence that Joe tried to protect Hunter.

But the catch for Johnson in investigating this is that the prosecutor in question really was corrupt according to all available reporting on the subject. And he wasn’t pursuing Burisma when Biden started twisting Ukrainian arms to drop the axe on him. Which means the likely result of the probe is … vindication for the Bidens?

From the GOP’s perspective, it probably doesn’t matter how Johnson’s investigation turns out. The point is to *have* an investigation, to crowd out some of the headlines about Trump and Ukraine and do political damage to Biden by raising suspicions about him. It’s a shrewd plan — unless, of course, it ends up ultimately benefiting progressives most of all by helping to keep the Ukraine matter in the news day after day and softening up Biden’s Democratic support to the point where he’s easy pickings for Elizabeth Warren in the primaries.

Speaking of congressional probes of Ukraine diplomacy, Pelosi reportedly wants any impeachment of Trump to focus on his approach to Zelensky about Biden rather than a kitchen-sink indictment in which Democrats bring in Russiagate obstruction, emoluments, and so on:

Inside the room, Democrats said, Pelosi (Calif.) told colleagues that keeping the inquiry narrowly focused on the Ukraine allegations could help keep the investigation out of the courts, where a slew of investigative matters have been bogged down for months — though she did not rule out ultimately including other episodes in a potential impeachment package.

The meeting included multiple members of the House Judiciary Committee, which has been probing alleged obstruction of justice, self-dealing and other matters involving Trump, though not Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). It ended without a firm decision on whether to circumscribe the probe but with consensus inside the room that narrowing the investigation, if only in terms of political messaging, made sense.

I think that’s the smart way to go, not just because it keeps Democrats out of court but because the allegation in the Ukraine matter is easy for the average voter to grasp. If Dems weren’t able to get the public excited for impeachment over Russiagate in two years of trying, they’re not going to belatedly spark enthusiasm to revisit the obstruction claims from that case now. And emoluments have never been on the public’s radar; that’s something Pelosi could place on the back burner and possibly revisit later if there’s an unusually stark case of Trump being paid by a foreign government. Emoluments would be another heavy lift in terms of public opinion, though, since Americans assume all politicians are corrupt. At worst, they’ll conclude, Trump is just a bit more obvious about it. Ukraine is Pelosi’s best bet to make the public kinda sorta “comfortable” with impeachment, in the full expectation that the effort will fail dismally in the Senate.