Senator Ron Johnson says he doesn’t need to testify before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol because he was only briefly involved with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Seriously. That’s what he says.
The Wisconsin Republican has been under scrutiny as an alleged co-conspirator in former President Donald Trump’s plot to overturn the results of 2020 election. During its fourth session, the committee revealed that Johnson and his aides were involved in an attempt to deliver lists of fake electors to Vice President Mike Pence shortly before Congress was scheduled to certify the Electoral College results that would make Joe Biden president.
A reporter asked Johnson, who is currently bidding for a third term, about the accusations at a campaign stop in Wisconsin. The reporter wanted Johnson to clear up questions about his involvement in the effort to get lists of fake electors from the states of Wisconsin and Michigan into Pence’s hands, as part of a scheme to have the Republican vice president replace legitimate lists of electors from states won by Biden with slates of Trump backers.
“My involvement in that attempt to deliver spanned the course of a couple seconds,” Johnson told the reporter from WISN-TV in an interview that aired Sunday. “I think I fielded three texts and sent two, and talked to my chief of staff that, ‘somebody wants you to deliver something.’ Yeah, I knew nothing about it. And in the end, those electors were not delivered because we found out from the vice president’s staff they didn’t want them delivered. End of story.”
Actually, it’s not the end of the story.
Johnson clearly knew a lot about the attempt to deliver the lists of fake electors to Pence. He texted and talked about it with his staff, and potentially others. Presumably, he knows something about who wanted him to deliver the lists or, at the least, could point investigators in the direction of someone who would know. After all, longtime associates of the senator compiled the Wisconsin list, including a former national committeewoman and a chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
There is also the undisputed fact that Johnson was willing to go along with the scheme. By all accounts, the only reason this particular component of the coup plot wasn’t executed was because Pence’s office refused to go along with it.
What Casey Lucier, the investigative counsel for the commission, discovered is that around noon on January 6, 2021, Johnson chief of staff Sean Riley sent a text message to Chris Hodgson, a top staffer for Pence, in which Riley communicated that “Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise.”
“What is it?” asked Hodgson.
Riley replied, “Alternate slate of electors for MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them.”
“Do not give that to him,” the Pence aide responded.
Immediately after the June 21 committee session revealed details of the fake-elector plot, Johnson pleaded ignorance. The senator told CNN’s Manu Raju, “I was aware that we got this package and that somebody wanted us to [give it to] the vice president. We reached out. They didn’t want it. We didn’t deliver it.”
Johnson claimed he didn’t know who had forwarded the lists of fake electors to his office. “I wasn’t involved,” he said, adding, “[There’s] no conspiracy here. This is a complete non-story, guys. Complete non-story.”
Ultimately, Johnson claimed, he and his staff “did the right thing.”
But there was nothing right about a Republican senator and his staff angling to put lists of fake electors in the hands of the Republican vice president of the United States at a point when the Republican president of the United States was attempting to pressure that vice president to overturn election results. Pence and his aides recognized this. Johnson and his aides did not.
Now, Johnson would like us to believe that there is a “five-second rule” for engaging in seditious conspiracy. If you only spend a few seconds—or, more likely, a number of minutes—seeking to make the key connection in a coup attempt, Johnson wants Wisconsinites to say, “Cool, no problem, as long as you didn’t spend a half hour trying to disqualify our votes.”
By any measure, Johnson’s time calculus is absurd. Instead of refusing to engage in Trump’s project of overturning election results from his home state, the senator’s response was to implement the strategy. The only thing that stopped Johnson and Riley from delivering the lists of fake electors was a firm “no” from a constitutionally inclined aide to Pence.
That’s something Johnson should answer for, in testimony before the select committee about how the lists came into his possession and with full disclosure regarding his own texts and calls on the morning of the day when the coup attempt played out. Obviously, this should happen before the voters of Wisconsin cast their votes on November 8, 2022.
In the meantime, the Democratic candidate who is ahead of Johnson in the polls is not hesitating to make an issue of the incumbent’s troubles.
“Ron Johnson actively tried to undermine this democracy,” says Democrat Mandela Barnes, who on August 9 won his party’s primary with 78 percent of the vote. “He literally tried to hand Mike Pence fake ballots. Once again, Ron Johnson has proven he’s a danger to our country and our fundamental rights.”