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Image: Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) at Senate committee hearing in Washington.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) at Senate committee hearing in Washington.Toni Sandys / Reuters

Ron Johnson's anti-Biden memo lands with an embarrassing thud

Ron Johnson went after Joe Biden. The Wisconsin Republican ended up doing far more damage to his own credibility than his target's.


Occasionally, Republicans and their allies eagerly await the release of information they're certain will advance their interests. It just never seems to work out that way.

In early 2018, for example, the so-called "Nunes Memo" was supposed to be a blockbuster success for Donald Trump and his allies. Instead, it backfired. A few months later, the president was briefly obsessed with "Spygate," right up until Trump administration officials prepared a briefing for lawmakers that discredited the nonsensical claims.

More recently, Republicans had high hopes about an email former White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice wrote in January 2017, which ended up proving the opposite of what the GOP wanted to see. The same thing happened with the release earlier this summer of intercepted calls between former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and a Russian official, which ended up making Flynn look worse, not better.

Today, it's happening again, with the release of a Senate Republican report about Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and a Ukrainian energy company.

The "conflicts of interest" report concludes that U.S. officials found Hunter Biden's role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, to be "very awkward" for those in the Obama administration who were at the time pushing an anti-corruption agenda in Ukraine and that Hunter Biden received millions of dollars from sitting on the board of the company. The report, though, provides no evidence that Hunter Biden's position affected U.S. policy.

As a rule, when your adjective of choice is "awkward," you've failed to deliver a meaningful bombshell that will shake-up a national election. (The word came by way of George Kent, a top State Department official who's already debunked Republican anti-Biden talking points.)

The whole point of the endeavor was to uncover evidence of Biden wrongdoing. It clearly failed.

Indeed, the GOP report, championed by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), is already facing widespread derision for being pitiful. Politico described the partisan document, co-authored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), as "largely a compilation of previously public information -- some of it rehashed anew by witnesses who already testified during the House's impeachment inquiry last year -- as well as news articles and strongly worded insinuations with little evidence to back them up."

The New York Times added, "The report delivered on Wednesday appeared to be little more than a rehashing of unproven allegations that echoed a Russian disinformation campaign." A Washington Post analysis noted that Johnson's document doesn't back up the core GOP conspiracy theory -- "or anything close to it." BuzzFeed concluded, "The 87-page report relies on previously known information, controversial news articles, and right-wing columnists to prop up already debunked allegations."


At a certain level, the end of Johnson's fiasco was predictable. The anti-Biden conspiracy theories have never made any sense, so the fact that his report is a dud shouldn't surprise anyone.

The trouble, however, is that the Wisconsin Republican went out of his way to hype this report before its release, suggesting it would prove devastating to the Democratic former vice president.

It was a curious strategy -- Johnson all but admitted he was running a sham investigation for political purposes -- made worse by the fact that he couldn't deliver much of anything. The GOP senator not only used a Senate committee to go after the rival party's presidential nominee in an election year, he did so in a way that did far more damage to his own credibility than his target's.

Alas, this is the latest in a series of embarrassments for Johnson. It was two years ago when the Wisconsin Republican looked ridiculous after alleging some FBI officials were members of a "secret society" that didn't exist. CNN soon after labeled Johnson "the senator who cried wolf."

The criticism was true at the time. It's even more brutal now.

Update: In the interest of disclosure, I should alert readers to the fact that Johnson's report references my work on page 61.