Like most months in the Trump era, February was a grueling 29 days of political activity amid the kickoff of primary results, multiple administration scandals, and the government’s lackluster response to the coronavirus outbreak. But one issue remained more or less absent from the itinerary: Republican focus on alleged (and debunked) Biden-family misconduct in Ukraine, the topic that brought the president to the brink of removal from office in the first place.
The last major GOP push on the Ukraine front following Trump’s Senate acquittal took place in the first full week in February, when the Treasury Department reportedly complied with Republican senators’ requests for documents related to Hunter Biden’s work in the country for the energy company Burisma. But for the past few weeks, the Republican Party has dropped the messaging on Ukrainian misconduct — coincidentally, just as Biden sunk in the polls behind Bernie Sanders. From the period of February 9 to March 1, Ukraine mostly slipped from GOP talking points, as Biden trailed Bernie Sanders, and the president pointed his attention toward the Vermont senator and Michael Bloomberg.
But with the primary momentum and Establishment support behind Biden after his win on Super Tuesday, four-year-old allegations of vice-presidential family misconduct are suddenly a priority again: On Wednesday, Senate Homeland Committee Chairman Ron Johnson announced he would release an interim report summarizing the committee’s investigation into Hunter Biden’s employment by Burisma later this spring. Johnson is one of many Trump allies alleging that, as vice-president, Joe Biden helped remove a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating corruption at Burisma to protect his son’s up-to-$50,000-a-month gig at the company. But at the time, Johnson supported Biden’s effort to reform the top Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, signing a letter backing “urgent reforms” in the system.
Speaking with reporters, Johnson stated his investigation was not intended to weigh down Biden’s candidacy, while also undercutting that claim: “If I were a Democrat primary voter I’d want these questions satisfactorily answered before I cast my final vote.” He added: “My investigations are not focused on the Bidens. They just aren’t.”
Critics disagreed: “After hearing nothing about Burisma over the course of the last couple weeks, the Republicans will revive it in a perfect demonstration of what this means to them, which is to be a cudgel to beat Joe Biden with,” said Rep. Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “Get ready,” Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy told the Daily Beast. “The Senate is going to turn into an arm of the Trump campaign. I don’t think we’ve expected anything different. The president is willing to use all the official powers at his disposal to try to destroy his political rivals.”
The president has also renewed his focus on Hunter Biden’s connections to Burisma, despite his being cleared of any illegal activity. “That will be a major issue in the campaign,” Trump said on Wednesday, in an interview with Fox News. “I will bring that up all the time.” Two days before Trump reiterated his concern over the former vice-president’s son benefiting from his father’s station, the Associated Press reported that Jared Kushner sold his stake in a digital platform for $25 to $50 million after the business grew thanks to tax cuts that the president’s son-in-law lobbied for directly. Three years ago, before the Trump tax cuts, Kushner’s stake in the company was valued at $5 million.