The House’s inquiry into the January 6 Capitol attack is shedding light on the role members of Congress played in Donald Trump’s scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Americans now know that several Republican members of Congress were so wrapped up in Trump’s coup attempt that they sought preemptive pardons to protect them from prosecution for what they obviously understood to be a criminal conspiracy.
But nothing that has come out so far has provided a clearer insight into the plotting than the revelations regarding the activities of US Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and his aides and associates on the day of January 6, 2021. As was revealed last week during an extraordinary session of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, a top aide to Johnson contacted a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence shortly before the certification of the Electoral College votes that would confirm the election of Democrat Joe Biden.
The Johnson aide indicated that the senator was interested in delivering to the vice president—who would preside over the proceedings—alternative lists of electors from the battleground states of Wisconsin and Michigan. The fake electors were pledged to Trump, who lost the popular vote by more than 7 million ballots nationwide and who lost Wisconsin, Michigan, and three other states that had voted for the Republican four years earlier.
As the hearings have made clear, Trump’s attempted coup was framed around a strategy that sought to have Pence reject the legitimately chosen electors for Biden and accept fake electors for Trump.
During the committee’s fourth session, we learned that around noon on January 6, Johnson aide Sean Riley sent a text message to Craig Hodgson, a top staffer for Pence, in which Riley said, “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.
The revelation of that text exchange puts Johnson and his office in the thick of the conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 election. And in the days that followed, the senator was clearly shaken.
Confronted by reporters on Capitol Hill about the news, Johnson claimed he was ignorant of most of the details. The senator told CNN’s Manu Raju he didn’t know who had delivered the lists of fake electors to his office. But he did admit, “I was aware that we got this package and that somebody wanted us to deliver it, so we reached out to Pence’s office.” He also acknowledged that, at an incredibly volatile moment, he and his aides failed to vet the package that was to be delivered to the vice president.
“We got handed an envelope that was supposed to go to the Vice President,” Johnson said. He claimed, “I wasn’t involved,” and said, “[There’s] no conspiracy here. This is a complete non-story, guys. Complete non-story.”
But, of course, it was a story. And Johnson was lying about it. Several days after the committee released the text messages, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted, “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.” Specifically, the paper reported, Johnson “acknowledged he coordinated with Dane County attorney Jim Troupis and his chief of staff by text message that morning to get to Pence a document Troupis described as regarding ‘Wisconsin electors.’”
Clearly, Ron Johnson involved himself in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. And the senator’s actions need to be investigated—by the January 6 committee and the Department of Justice.
One of the Democrats who hopes to challenge Johnson in the fall, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, has for months been arguing that the committee should investigate Johnson. In a January 6, 2022, letter to the committee’s leadership, Nelson urged the select committee to subpoena Johnson, seeking “records and testimony relating to his efforts to delay and disrupt the results of the election; his contacts with any groups or individuals with ties to domestic terrorism before, during and after the attack; his coordination with the Trump White House advancing the disinformation campaign that led to the attack on the U.S. Capitol; and his continued and persistent advocacy of election disinformation.”
“This subpoena,” Nelson wrote, “should include, but not be limited to, phone and text records; logs and schedules; email records; and any other records relevant to his work seeking to undermine the peaceful transfer of power.”
After last week’s revelations about the plotting around fake electors, Nelson now says the committee is
learning the full extent of how much Ron Johnson was the “go-to” guy for insurrection among the Trump plotters and how he himself was prepared to subvert our democracy by overturning the will of Wisconsin voters and throwing the election to Donald Trump. I had suspected he had a far bigger role than reported when I wrote my letter asking for him and his records to be subpoenaed by the Commission. But today’s revelations go beyond anything I could have imagined for how far Ron Johnson would go to overturn our Wisconsin election result.
Nelson is not the only Democratic Senate candidate who is calling on the January 6 Committee to investigate Johnson. On Tuesday, State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski wrote committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and ranking member Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and urged them to examine “urgent new questions about the senator’s dangerous and potentially illegal actions.” As part of that examination, she suggested, Johnson should be called before the committee and required to “answer questions under oath and penalty of perjury about his involvement in an attempted coup to install Donald Trump as president.”
Godlewski proposed a list of questions:
- Why did Ron Johnson’s story change about who approached him and his office about the fake elector scheme?
- What conversations took place between Sen. Johnson and the Republican activists who served as fake electors and their lawyers—including Trump attorney Jim Troupis, who helped organize the fake electors and who Johnson invited to testify at the hearing he called on election fraud?
- What communications occurred between Sen. Johnson and his staff, and Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Kelly and his staff?
- What conversations took place between Sen. Johnson and his chief of staff about reaching out to the Vice President?
- What correspondence and communications exist between Sen. Johnson and his office, and the fake electors and their lawyers?
- The text from Sen. Johnson’s chief of staff claims that the slates could not be delivered to the “archivist,” but that isn’t true—the archivist had received both sets of fake slates weeks before. Where did this false assertion come from?
Godlewski is right when she says the new evidence “strongly implicates Senator Johnson in that conspiracy against America.” And the senator’s response to that evidence raises fundamental questions about whether he is now engaged in an—admittedly bumbling—attempt to cover up his role in what has been properly identified as an attempted coup. The committee has to demand the truth from Johnson, and the Department of Justice has to investigate whether this senator should be prosecuted for seditious conspiracy.