This week, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot revealed that Johnson’s chief of staff tried to hand Vice President Mike Pence a list of fake voters supporting Trump, raising questions about the Wisconsin Republican’s role in a deliberate and coordinated plan to block Biden’s victory and give Trump the presidency.
The disclosure also underscores the extent of Johnson’s role as one of Congress’s most prominent Holocaust deniers and Jan. 6 apologists – spreading vote-rigging conspiracy theories and downplaying the seriousness of the violent assault on the Capitol as mostly “peaceful,” while floating the idea that it might be an inside job of the FBI.
Johnson, who is up for re-election this year, has been plagued by scandals and controversial statements since aligning himself with Trump. He spread false information about the coronavirus, was accused of racism for saying he would have been worried if Black Lives Matter protesters flooded the Capitol on January 6 instead of most White Trump supporters, and is under fire for using taxpayers’ money for airfare from Washington to his home in Florida. Some Democrats and political pundits say this latest revelation of direct text communication between Johnson and Pence staff on Jan. 6 could sway voters in a battleground state where elections are won by a slim margin.
“What happened in the last 24 hours is different. It’s one thing to articulate outlandish political positions, it’s another to have participated in a coup attempt,” he said. said Kenneth R. Mayer, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Johnson’s potential Democratic opponents – Wisconsin’s primary is in August – immediately attacked him, arguing that the texts provide hard evidence to voters that Johnson was part of an attempt to nullify the votes of thousands of Wisconsinites. A poll published on Wednesday by Marquette Law School, but led before the latest revelations, Johnson trailed three of his four potential single-digit opponents.
Democratic Senate candidate Tom Nelson, who previously lobbied for the Jan. 6 committee to subpoena Johnson, on Wednesday called on the senator to resign. “Today’s revelations go beyond anything I could have imagined how far Ron Johnson would go to overturn our election result in Wisconsin. Johnson should not only resign and be sworn in, but all the signs point to evidence of a crime that the US Department of Justice is obligated to investigate.
Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who is also running in the Democratic Senate primary, called on Johnson to “resign immediately.”
“Ron Johnson actively tried to undermine this democracy. He literally tried to hand Mike Pence fake ballots. Once again, Ron Johnson has proven himself to be a danger to our country and our basic rights,” Barnes said in a statement.
“Ron Johnson is a seditious traitor and a danger to democracy”, tweeted Alex Lasry, another Senate candidate.
Sarah Godlewski, Wisconsin state treasurer and another Democrat vying to challenge Johnson, called him a “threat to our democracy and a disgrace to our state.”
Johnson’s spokeswoman, Alexa Henning, dismissed the criticism. “The senator’s Democratic opponents are always trying new ways to avoid talking about their disastrous Democratic policies,” she said. “The senator never considered resigning following the dozens of false attacks already made against him. Why would this absurd attack be any different? »
Henning did not respond to specific questions about the text messages or Johnson’s knowledge of the fake election documents.
Johnson denied involvement in the scheme to deliver fake Trump voters to Pence. A text message shown at the hearing, from Johnson’s chief of staff Sean Riley to Pence aide Chris Hodgson and sent minutes before the joint session of Congress to certify Biden’s victory, said: ‘Johnson must hand over something thing to VPOTUS, please inform.”
“What is that?” Hodgson responds. “An alternate list of voters for MI and WI because the archivist did not receive them,” writes Riley. “Don’t give him that,” Hodgson replies.
Johnson told reporters Tuesday that someone on the House side, “a staff intern,” brought the envelope to his office and said it should be given to the vice president. Johnson claims his office attempted to make the transfer, but the vice president’s staff rejected it and it was the full involvement of his staff. “I didn’t participate in it,” Johnson said. “It’s a total non-story.”
Johnson acknowledged that “he was aware that we had received something that wanted to be delivered to the vice president,” but said he did not know who delivered it or what it was. He said his chief of staff “did the right thing” by offering the documents to the vice president.
Later, Johnson left the Capitol followed by reporters who asked him about the text messages. Johnson held his phone to his ear and said he was on a call, but a reporter challenged the senator, saying he could see the screen and knew Johnson wasn’t talking to anyone.
“The bottom line is that Johnson is not stupid – he had to know what the context was at the time, what was happening on January 6, what was happening at home; he was way down the rabbit hole of ‘Stop the Steal’ efforts,” said Charlie Sykes, a former prominent Republican who has long opposed Trump. Sykes, who lives in Wisconsin, said the “very specific and easily understandable” image in text messages from Johnson’s staff in the vice president’s office referring to surrogate voters takes the effort to overturn the election. an abstract notion to something tangible.
The Jan. 6 committee released a few more details about how Wisconsin’s plan came to fruition. Andrew Hitt, a former Wisconsin GOP chairman, signed on to be a fake voter for Trump. In testimony before the committee, Hitt said he believed Trump’s surrogate voter list would only be used if the Trump campaign won its legal challenges.
“I was told it would only count if a court ruled in our favour,” he said. Otherwise, “it would have used our constituents in ways we weren’t told about and we wouldn’t have supported,” Hitt said in a clip played during the hearing.
A package tracker shows that the bundle of certificates was sent to Wisconsin on December 16 but was not accepted by a National Archives employee in Washington until the morning of January 4. Later that day, Mark Jefferson, the executive director of the Wisconsin Republicans texted someone: “Trump idiots want someone to send the original voter papers to the president of the Senate. They’re going to call one of us to tell us what’s going on.
Hitt and Jefferson did not respond to requests for comment.
Jeffrey Mandell, a Wisconsin attorney in a May lawsuit against fake Trump voters in the state, said there were still many holes in the timeline, including who from the Trump campaign was in contact with Hitt and Jefferson and who gave the fraudulent documents to Johnson’s office. Mandell pointed out that the cover page included with the alternate voters list sent to Washington was on official Wisconsin Republican Party letterhead.
Mandell said that while many questions remain, Johnson’s involvement by the committee confirms the senator’s role in trying to void the 2020 election.
“We’ve known for a long time that he was a fan of the ‘big lie’ and was willing to say and do anything to further this ‘big lie,'” Mandell said. “He kept dithering and for the most part kept nurturing the ‘big lie’ and supporting those conspiracy theorists. It wasn’t a terrible surprise, but there’s something quite visceral about the image of Senator Johnson physically trying to get those papers to Pence in daylight, in the Senate, at the key moment just before Congress does not start counting the votes.
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.