Sen. Ron Johnson has become one of the Senate’s most controversial members for a variety of reasons, most of which relate to the Wisconsin Republican’s bizarre conspiracy theories. Yesterday, however, the GOP lawmaker generated headlines for a new and unexpected reason.
Partway through yesterday’s Jan. 6 committee hearing, the public heard from Casey Lucier, an investigative counsel for the panel, who walked the public through a series of details surrounding the Republicans’ post-election fake electors scheme. She explained, for example, that Donald Trump’s political operation took steps to ensure that physical copies of the forged materials were delivered to Washington, D.C., in advance of the congressional certification process.
It was at that point that Lucier added something new. From the transcript:
“Text messages exchanged between Republican Party officials in Wisconsin showed that on Jan. 4, the Trump campaign asked for someone to fly their fake electors’ documents to Washington. A staffer for Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson texted a staffer for Vice President Pence just minutes before the beginning of the joint session. This staffer stated that Senator Johnson wished to hand-deliver to the Vice President the fake electors’ votes from Michigan and Wisconsin. The Vice President’s aide unambiguously instructed them not to deliver the fake votes to the Vice President.”
In other words, Johnson not only intended to be a conduit for forged election documents, a member of his staff reached out to Mike Pence’s office to determine how the senator could personally and directly advance the fake electors scheme.
An aide to the then-vice president responded to Johnson’s aide, “Do not give that to him.”
At that point, the senator’s role in the gambit apparently came to an end, but the fact that Johnson was prepared to play such a role raises some difficult questions about the Republican’s intentions.
Late yesterday, those were questions he did not want to answer.
By way of a preliminary defense, a Johnson spokesperson got the ball rolling with a couple of tweets, insisting that the senator was not involved “in the creation of” the fake electors’ forged documents. That’s almost certainly true, but the defense was beside the point: No one had suggested that Johnson made the materials.
Soon after, some reporters caught up with the senator outside the Capitol and pressed him for answers. Johnson initially ignored them, pretending to be in the middle of a call. “I’m on the phone right now,” he said, prompting NBC News’ Frank Thorp to respond, “No you’re not. I can see your phone. I can see your screen.”
After that amazingly hilarious moment, Johnson eventually ended the ridiculous charade, put away the phone he wasn’t talking into, and tried to dismiss the controversy.
According to what Johnson told reporters, someone — he didn’t say who — dropped off forged election materials and asked that the senator deliver the documents to Pence. Johnson, the then-chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, effectively presented himself as a clueless delivery guy.
“I was basically unaware of it,” he said, adding, “I had no knowledge of this.”
The Republican also seemed quite eager to tell the media that we definitely shouldn’t care about the revelations: “That’s a non-story.... I don’t know what you’re even concerned about here.... That’s the end of story.... There’s nothing to this.... There’s no story here.”
The Wisconsin lawmaker later appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program. There were, oddly enough, exactly zero questions about the controversy.
Perhaps the host forgot.
Regardless, Johnson’s eagerness to make the story go away notwithstanding, we now know that the senator was prepared to deliver forged election materials — on Jan. 6 — to the then-vice president as part of a fake electors scheme that even Team Trump recognized as legally illegitimate.
That doesn’t sounds like “a non-story.”
The editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has said Johnson is “unfit” for office and called him “the most irresponsible representative of Wisconsin citizens since the infamous Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy in the 1950s.”
Yesterday, his standing got a little worse.
Update: While Johnson was not one of the eight Senate Republicans who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election, Greg Sargent reminds us that the Wisconsin Republican, shortly before Jan. 6, did call for a delay in certification as part of Trump's scheme.