By Jon Healey
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who's been hard at work pursuing the dark forces behind the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, announced Tuesday on Twitter that he wants to open another investigation that will warm the cockles of President Trump's heart: the firing of former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin.
And his main witness? Trump's personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
On the surface, this looks ridiculous. Giuliani, who is not known for his rigorous adherence to real-world facts, has been gathering information from sketchy Ukrainian sources to advance the theory that former Vice President Joe Biden forced the Ukrainian parliament to fire Shokin to cut short an investigation into Burisma, an energy company that gave Biden's son Hunter a lucrative post on its board of directors in May 2014.
But that notion runs counter to reporting at the time _ and now _ about how Joe Biden joined a chorus of international diplomats pushing Ukraine to get tougher on corruption, including the alleged misdeeds of Burisma's majority shareholder, Mykola Zlochevskiy.
Notably, U.S. and British authorities complained that a lack of cooperation from Ukrainian prosecutors undermined a British investigation of alleged fraud by Zlochevskiy. Giuliani appears to be painting a through-the-looking-glass picture of events where Biden, not Shokin, is the one covering for corruption, and Giuliani and Trump are the exposers.
Nevertheless, Graham wants to hold a hearing on "corruption and other improprieties" in Ukraine at some to-be-determined date with one witness _ Giuliani _ and then go from there.
So far, Graham hasn't laid out a path to giving voice to "everything Ukraine." He's giving a voice to Giuliani and his warped view of events, which seems rooted in a peculiar sort of political unified field theory _ namely, that forces in Ukraine sought to elect Hillary Clinton and funnel U.S. tax dollars somehow to Hunter Biden, magically tying together the presidential campaigns of 2016 and 2020.
The only thing that prevents rational people from dismissing all this stuff as crazy talk fueled by discredited Ukrainian ex-officials is Hunter Biden's connection to Burisma, which carries the whiff of a powerful politician's son trading on his family name.
This is foul air badly in need of clearing. And if Graham is really interested in getting to the bottom of it, great _ we would all be better off working from a common set of facts.
I'm not confident that Graham is so motivated; his main concern seems to be how the House is treating Trump. (Graham tweeted Monday night that the House was "destroying" the Constitution by not allowing Trump and his lawyers to confront the anonymous whistleblower who triggered the impeachment inquiry.)
But at the very least, bringing Giuliani before the full committee would give multiple senators the chance to hold Giuliani's allegations up to the light, vetting the quality of the evidence he presents and identifying other witnesses whose testimony should be compelled.
Graham's announcement on Twitter about inviting Giuliani to testify took the Democrats on his committee by surprise, but they warmed to the idea quickly.
"I welcome the opportunity to question Rudy Giuliani under oath about his role in seeking the Ukrainian government's assistance to investigate one of the president's political rivals," the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said in a statement.
She added, "Democratic members have plenty of questions for Mr. Giuliani and this would give us an opportunity to help separate fact from fiction for the American people."
Jon Healey is the deputy editorial page editor for the Los Angeles Times. His commentary was distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.