Among the many interesting revelations from this week’s Jan. 6 committee hearings related to someone who hadn’t seemed especially relevant to the larger controversy: Sen. Ron Johnson. Complicating matters, the Wisconsin Republican’s version of events isn't faring especially well.
We learned Tuesday that on Jan. 6, just minutes before Congress was set to certify the election results, Johnson’s chief of staff reached out to an aide for then-Vice President Mike Pence. The senator’s top staffer said Johnson “needed” to hand-deliver forged election materials from fake electors in Michigan and Wisconsin to Pence.
The then-vice president’s aide responded, “Do not give that to him.”
After these revelations came to light, reporters pressed Johnson for an explanation. After a hilarious attempt at pretending to be on the phone, the senator eventually said he was “basically unaware” of the whole scheme, adding, “I had no knowledge of this.”
The then-chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, we were told, had simply played the role of a clueless delivery guy. Some unknown person dropped off an envelope at his office, at which point Johnson agreed to serve as a mindless, uncritical conduit between Republican operatives and the office of the vice president.
Yesterday, as The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted, Johnson’s story evolved a bit.
After initially claiming to be “basically unaware” of an effort by his staff to get fake presidential elector documents to Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Thursday he coordinated with a Wisconsin attorney to pass along such information and alleged a Pennsylvania congressman brought slates of fake electors to his office — a claim that was immediately disputed.
Evidently, under the new version of events, Johnson wasn’t entirely clueless about the events unfolding around him. Instead, the GOP lawmaker acknowledged he coordinated with Dane County attorney Jim Troupis — at the time, a Trump campaign counsel — and his chief of staff by text message that morning to get to Pence a document Troupis described as regarding “Wisconsin electors.”
Johnson added yesterday that he recently learned that the documents in question came from Republican Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania.
If Kelly’s name sounds at all familiar, the congressman is currently facing an unrelated ethics investigation. After Donald Trump’s defeat, Kelly also reportedly called for his home state’s election results to be ignored, and for the Republican-controlled state legislature — and not Pennsylvania’s voters — to choose the winner.
At face value, Johnson’s version of events appeared to be expanding the scope of the controversy. But just as the new details started coming into focus, Kelly pushed back. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:
In a statement Thursday, Mr. Kelly’s office categorically denied the accusations. “Senator Johnson’s statements about Representative Kelly are patently false. Mr. Kelly has not spoken to Sen. Johnson for the better part of a decade, and he has no knowledge of the claims Mr. Johnson is making related to the 2020 election,” the statement said.
Yesterday morning, the Wisconsin Republican told a Capitol Hill reporter that the information he was poised to share would put the matter to rest entirely. “It will all be clear and you’ll never have to ask me this question again,” Johnson said.
Nice try, senator, but that didn’t work out at all.