Top Democrat cites coronavirus in opposing subpoena to Burisma-linked firm

The top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee announced his opposition to a subpoena into a Burisma-linked consulting firm, arguing the Republican-led investigation is rendered superfluous by the coronavirus outbreak.

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan told Chairman Ron Johnson his proposed subpoena was “inappropriate” for multiple reasons in a letter first obtained by CBS News. Peters told the Wisconsin Republican that “you have not scheduled the intelligence briefings you agreed to; you risk continuing to amplify foreign election interference efforts; and your own public comments acknowledge that your investigation is at least partly targeted at influencing voters.”

Last week, Johnson announced his intent to subpoena Blue Star Strategies executives and produce records as part of an investigation into Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy firm that once employed Hunter Biden. The move marked a change in strategy one day after the committee scrapped a vote to subpoena a former Ukrainian consultant for the Washington-based consulting firm directly.

“During the course of these discussions, the suggestion was made by both Democrat and Republican members of our Committee that we should issue a subpoena directly to the source of the documents relevant to our work: Blue Star. I appreciate the engagement of our Committee members on this issue, and believe the appropriate course of action at this time is to accommodate that request,” Johnson wrote in a letter.

The subpoena calls for every record between Jan. 1, 2013, and the present of work done by Blue Star Strategies on behalf of Burisma Holdings or individuals associated with Burisma, such as Burisma owner and Ukrainian oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky.

But Peters said Tuesday he “would disapprove of the subpoenas under ordinary circumstances” and “these are not ordinary circumstances.”

“A day after you sent the subpoena notice, the president declared a national emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic,” Peters said. “This is an unprecedented crisis, and it requires an all-hands response.”

There are 201,672 confirmed coronavirus cases around the world and at least 8,008 deaths tied to the infection, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. In the United States, there are 6,496 cases, which have resulted in 114 deaths as of Wednesday morning.

Peters called the subpoena “a misuse of Committee resources” at this time.

The Washington Examiner reached out to Johnson’s office for comment.

Johnson previously told Peters that “this subpoena is in furtherance of the Committee’s ongoing work to address the many unanswered questions about potential conflicts of interest and the extent to which representatives of Burisma — including officials at Blue Star — used individuals with close personal connections to high-level officials within the Obama administration to gain access to and potentially influence U.S. government agencies.”

Burisma is the Ukrainian gas company on which Biden, son of Democratic presidential front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden, served on the board from 2014 to 2019, including when the elder Biden took a leading role in carrying out U.S. policy toward Ukraine. President Trump and his allies have alleged the former vice president leveraged his position to protect his son from a Ukrainian investigation into Burisma’s owner, while Democrats have called the focus on Burisma an effort to take down Trump’s top political rival.

During his July 25 phone call, immediately after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed interest in purchasing anti-tank weaponry, Trump asked Zelensky “to do us a favor, though,” referring to looking into the CrowdStrike conspiracy theory and possible Ukrainian election interference. Trump urged Zelensky later in the call to investigate “the other thing,” meaning allegations of corruption related to the Bidens.

Johnson’s subpoena called for Blue Star’s CEO Karen Tramontano and COO Sally Painter to testify about the documents the committee subpoenaed from them.

The proposed subpoena of the Blue Star documents came after months of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on the committee over issuing a subpoena directly to former Blue Star consultant Andrii Telizhenko.

Telizhenko is a former low-level staffer at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and a current consultant back-and-forth between Kyiv and Washington. Telizhenko claims he was told by Oksana Shulyar, a top aide for Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Valeriy Chaly, that he should help former Democratic National Committee consultant Alexandra Chalupa in her anti-Trump efforts during the 2016 presidential cycle.

Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American founder of her own consulting firm and a co-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee’s Ethnic Council, is alleged to have coordinated with Ukrainian officials while digging up Russia-related dirt on Trump’s then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Chalupa denies Telizhenko’s claims.

Johnson said last week that both Republican and Democratic members of the committee agreed to subpoena documents related to their investigation from Blue Star as opposed to Telizhenko himself.

Tramontano recently told the New York Times her firm had provided dozens of documents to the panel and “will continue to cooperate” with the inquiry “to the best of our ability.”

Chalupa and Telizhenko featured prominently in a 2017 Politico article cited repeatedly by Republicans, including during impeachment proceedings, as evidence Ukraine attempted to help former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton win in 2016. The Ukrainian Embassy denied Telizhenko’s account, and the DNC said Chalupa acted on her own.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed Telizhenko had “direct evidence” of “Ukrainian collusion, not Russian collusion” in October and claimed fired Ukrainian prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko had evidence. Giuliani’s December trip to Ukraine featured meetings with all three Ukrainians. Telizhenko has appeared on Giuliani’s web show multiple times since then.

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