Team Biden targets Ron Johnson over possible foreign influence scheme

Among other things, the Biden campaign is accusing Ron Johnson of being opaque about whether a foreign influence operation is using him.
Image: Ron Johnson
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., heads to the Senate for a vote on Capitol Hill on Sept. 24, 2019.Alex Brandon / AP
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By Steve Benen

After Donald Trump's impeachment, some of his most zealous allies thought it'd be a good idea to try to turn the political tables and investigate Joe Biden's efforts in Ukraine. There's no merit behind such a brazenly partisan scheme, but several Republicans have decided it might pay electoral dividends.

At the top of the list: Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

Common sense suggests the Wisconsin Republican would be focused on the coronavirus crisis right now, but Johnson has downplayed the significance of the pandemic, recently suggesting the United States "overreacted" to the public-health emergency. The GOP senator has instead pretended there's a Burisma controversy worthy of his powerful committee's time and attention.

NBC News reported this morning that Joe Biden’s campaign has launched "a highly personal broadside" at the Republican committee chairman over his recent antics.

Among other things, the Biden campaign is accusing Johnson of being opaque about whether he is, in effect, “party to a foreign influence operation against the United States” by receiving materials from pro-Russian foreigners as part of the committee’s probe. The memo, signed by Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield and shared with NBC News, accuses Johnson of “diverting” his committee’s resources away from oversight of the worsening coronavirus pandemic to promote “a long debunked, hardcore rightwing conspiracy theory” about Biden in an attempt to assist President Trump’s re-election campaign.

The NBC News report added that there have been recent media reports in which pro-Russian Ukrainians claimed to have shared materials with Johnson's committee -- which has only heightened concerns about the panel being used as part of foreign interference campaign.

For his part, Johnson denies being used as part of a foreign influence scheme, though his office hasn't directly answered questions about relying on foreign information while chasing anti-Biden conspiracy theories ahead of the election.

That's not a great sign.

If this sounds familiar, it's because the Biden campaign isn't alone in being concerned. As regular readers know, the Democratic half of the "Gang of Eight" -- Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Adam Schiff, and Mark Warner -- recently sent a formal request to FBI Director Christopher Wray, asking that the bureau provide "a defensive counterintelligence briefing" to literally every member of Congress.

They specifically raised the specter of a foreign rival targeting Congress with "a concerted foreign interference campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity, public debate, and the presidential election in November."

They were, evidently, referring specifically to Ron Johnson's probe.