WASHINGTON — The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee voted Wednesday on party lines to back subpoenas of about 40 people in its probe of the FBI's Russia investigation and the Obama administration's actions.

Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who leads the panel, dismissed Democrats' accusations that he's engaging in a politically motivated probe aimed at influencing the 2020 election less than 50 days away. Johnson said Democrats were trying to "smear" his efforts and had falsely accused him of using information obtained from a Russian disinformation campaign.

"There is no Russian disinformation in our record," said Johnson, a key ally of President Donald Trump. He said Democrats had paid for foreign disinformation to attack Republicans in 2016 and he defended the need to investigate what happened.

"The public has a right to know," Johnson said.

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the committee's top Democrat, called Johnson's investigation "a partisan fishing expedition." He said other committees and the Department of Justice have already investigated these issues. Peters said it's clear Johnson's various probes are designed to affect the presidential race between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Johnson has also been investigating alleged conflicts of interest involving Biden and he has promised a report soon on the former vice president and his son Hunter Biden.

That has caused concern among some Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who told reporters Tuesday that the committee's probe "has all the appearance of a political endeavor rather than a legitimate government oversight role."

Biden's spokesman, Andrew Bates, on Wednesday cited Romney's remarks and called Johnson's actions "disgraceful" and a "tragic malfeasance" that would only aid foreign interference in the election.

Peters suggested the committee should instead focus its resources on issues such the Covid-19 pandemic.

The committee had already voted to authorize most of the subpoenas, but Peters objected to depositions without a formal vote of the committee or Peters's approval. Johnson called that interpretation of committee rules "absurd" but held the vote.

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(With assistance by Tyler Pager.)

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