Politics / August 3, 2023

There’s One More Unnamed Accomplice in the Trump Indictment

Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson makes a notable cameo in the 45-page document.

John Nichols
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks during a Senate Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on the proposed PGA Tour-LIV Golf partnership, Tuesday, July 11, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Senator Ron Johnson speaks during a Senate hearing on the proposed PGA Tour-LIV Golf partnership, Tuesday, July 11, 2023.

(Patrick Semansky / AP)

Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith’s felony indictment of Donald Trump for seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election makes specific reference to six known co-conspirators who aided the defeated former president’s lawless scheming to retain the presidency.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is not one of them.

Yet Johnson’s machinations on behalf of Trump feature prominently in the 45-page indictment that was issued Tuesday afternoon. And they are likely to feature just as prominently in what is all but certain to be the most serious of Trump’s many trials.

On pages 36 and 37 of the indictment, Smith provides details of how Trump and his lieutenants attempted to use fake electors as part of the scheme (emphasis mine):

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On January 6, starting in the early morning hours, the Defendant again turned to knowingly false statements aimed at pressuring the Vice President to fraudulently alter the election outcome, and raised publicly the false expectation that the Vice President might do so:

a. At 1:00 a.m., the Defendant issued a Tweet that falsely claimed, “If Vice President Mike Pence comes through for us, we will win the Presidency. Many States want to decertify the mistake they made in certifying incorrect & even fraudulent numbers in a process NOT approved by their State Legislatures (which it must be). Mike can send it back!”

b. At 8:17 a.m., the Defendant issued a Tweet that falsely stated, “States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

On the morning of January 6, an agent of the Defendant contacted a United States Senator to ask him to hand-deliver documents to the Vice President. The agent then facilitated the receipt by the Senator’s staff of the fraudulent certificates signed by the Defendant’s fraudulent electors in Michigan and Wisconsin, which were believed not to have been delivered to the Vice President or Archivist by mail. When one of the Senator’s staffers contacted a staffer for the Vice President by text message to arrange for delivery of what the Senator’s staffer had been told were ‘[alternate slate[s] of electors for MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them,’ the Vice President’s staffer rejected them.

The senator is not named. But Johnson has grudglingly acknowledged that he participated in conversations about delivering the lists of fake electors to Pence—in other words, the exact scenario featured in the indictment. Johnson has claimed that his involvement was brief and that he was ignorant about all of the schemes that were unfolding on the day when Trump was telling his allies to “fight like hell” to keep him in office. But former Wisconsin Republican Party chair Andrew Hitt told the House January 6th Committee that, after official election results confirmed Biden had won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes, Johnson spoke to him about having Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature override the voters and name the state’s presidential electors.

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According to documents released by the committee, Hitt turned over text messages he exchanged with Wisconsin Republican Party executive director Mark Jefferson a week before Wisconsin’s electors were due to cast their votes for Democrat Joe Biden.

Referring to Johnson by his first name, Hitt wrote, “Ron called me right after and now is arguing for us to have the legislature choose the electors. OMG.”

Jefferson responded: “What is he doing?”

Hitt replied, “There is a huge amount of pressure building on them to find a way around the electoral college.”

On December 14, the duly-chosen electors voted for Biden. But a cabal of Republican fake electors gathered to vote for Trump.

Those Wisconsin Republicans are among the “fraudulent electors” referred to in Smith’s indictment when it talks about the instance where “an agent of the Defendant contacted a United States Senator to ask him to hand-deliver documents to the Vice President”–and about how “The agent then facilitated the receipt by the Senator’s staff of the fraudulent certificates signed by the Defendant’s fraudulent electors in Michigan and Wisconsin.”

And that senator is Ron Johnson. 

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John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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