Now that Biden's the frontrunner again, the GOP is reviving the Ukraine conspiracies

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With Joe Biden leapfrogging to the front of the pack of Democratic presidential candidates, President Trump's Republican allies on Capitol Hill are redoubling their efforts to kneecap the former vice president's campaign with a page out of Trump's own impeachable playbook. Speaking with reporters Wednesday, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson announced plans to release an interim report detailing the progress of his ongoing investigation into Biden's son Hunter, and his work with the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma.

"These are questions that Joe Biden has not adequately answered,” Johnson told reporters, before explicitly linking his investigation to the same sort of political meddling that ultimately led to Trump's impeachment trial earlier this year. "If I were a Democrat primary voter," Johnson said, "I’d want these questions satisfactorily answered before I cast my final vote."

Trump was impeached for requesting the Ukrainian government investigate Biden and other Democrats, and using congressionally appropriated military aid money to that country as leverage to get the probes launched. The machinations reached their peak last summer, when Biden was thought to be the Democratic presidential frontrunner; as of this week, the former vice president has once again seized that mantle.

Meanwhile, on Monday, CBS News obtained documents indicating that Johnson, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, was also seeking subpoena power as part of his probe. There is no evidence that either Biden or his son acted improperly in Ukraine.

Despite the suspicious timing of Johnson's revamped efforts to re-litigate the thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory surrounding the younger Biden's Ukraine work — made as the elder Biden cleared a number of primary hurdles to become his party's nominee — Johnson insisted that there was nothing suspicious about this sudden flurry of Biden-targeting.

"My investigations are not focused on the Bidens. They’re just not. But I can’t ignore them because they’re part of the story. They made themselves part of the story,” Johnson told reporters. "If there’s wrongdoing, the American people need to know it. If there is no wrongdoing or nothing significant, the American people need to understand that as well."

The underlying irony in all this is that, although Trump's efforts to hobble Biden's presidential campaign by alleging Hunter's wrongdoing ultimately led to his impeachment (and subsequent acquittal by the GOP-held Senate), his scheme on the whole has had the desired effect: embedding the idea that the Bidens are associated with Ukrainian corruption into the broader political zeitgeist.

And so, once again, we have congressional Republicans like Johnson eager to pick up where Trump himself left off, by continuing to target one of the president's chief electoral threats in the name of "anti-corruption." Johnson said he expects the interim report to be released in the next month or two — likely as the primary process winds down, and the party prepares to nominate its presidential candidate at the Democratic National Convention in July.