Sen. Ron Johnson speaks during a hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on Jan 24, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty

‘The senator who cried wolf’


Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-Wis.) willingness to peddle the ridiculous “secret society” story hasn’t exactly worked out well for him.

The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee acknowledged Thursday that a reference made between two FBI employees of a “secret society” could have been said in jest as opposed to evidence of an anti-Donald Trump plot.

“It’s a real possibility,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, told CNN.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/7/17, 9:44 PM ET

Republicans eager to delegitimize Robert Mueller and FBI

Rachel Maddow shows how Republicans are working hard to smear Robert Mueller and the FBI’s Trump Russia investigation.
As recently as Tuesday, the Wisconsin Republican made it sound as if he’d identified credible evidence of corruption at the FBI, thanks to a leaked, out-of-context text message between two bureau officials. “What this is all about is further evidence of corruption,” Johnson told Fox News. The GOP senator, who chairs a powerful Senate committee, added, “Corruption of the highest levels of the FBI. The secret society – we have an informant talking about a group that was holding secret meetings off-site.”

There was no “secret society.” There were no members. There were no “secret meetings” of a nefarious group. There was no “site.”

There was a tongue-in-cheek joke about a Vladimir Putin calendar.

The day after telling a national television audience there may be evidence of “corruption of the highest levels of the FBI,” Johnson hedged a bit, saying, “I, you know, I have heard, you know, from somebody who has talked to our committee.”

And then yesterday his retreat was nearly complete, when he conceded it’s “a real possibility” that the text in question was intended to be funny.

CNN labeled Johnson “the senator who cried wolf” – which isn’t ordinarily the sort of thing a senator wants to be called.

It’s possible, of course, that Johnson didn’t fully appreciate the context of the “secret society” message when he warned the nation about “corruption of the highest levels of the FBI,” but that’s hardly any better. The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee didn’t check to get his facts straight before making an accusation like this to a national audience?

Alternatively, the Wisconsinite did have the context and made the claim anyway. That’s probably worse.

It’s hard to blame Democrats for piling on. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) described Johnson’s efforts as “delusional” and “paranoid.” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the ranking member on Johnson’s committee, asked the chairman to elaborate on the “informant” he pointed to – who probably doesn’t exist.

Making matters worse, it’s not as if Johnson has a reservoir of credibility and respect to fall back upon. Over the course of seven years, the GOP senator has developed a reputation for having bizarre ideas. His antics this week won’t help.

Conspiracy Theories and Ron Johnson

'The senator who cried wolf'