Conservative Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Who faces a tough re-election this year, finds himself embroiled in new controversy after the House Select Committee on Tuesday revealed that his staff was trying to hand over a list of fake voters to then-Vice President Mike Pence.
Johnson faces difficult questions about how much he knew about his staff’s efforts to get Pence to recognize an alternative set of voters for Michigan and Wisconsin, two critical states that helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election.
Johnson declined on Wednesday to say whether he authorized his aide Sean Riley to hand over the electoral roll to Pence on January 6, 2021, or whether he knew in advance what his aide planned to do. He also declined to say whether he knew the contents of the envelope to be given to Pence’s staff.
“This happened so fast, it’s 18 months ago. It just happened, we took care of it. That’s the way it is. There is nothing else to say about this,” he said when asked what he knew about the deal. .
“There is nothing else to say about this,” he said, accusing journalists of asking him for more details about “carrying water to the Democratic Party.”
Alexa Henning, a spokeswoman for Johnson, issued a statement Tuesday in which she claimed Johnson had “no prior knowledge” that the fake list of voters would be delivered to his office and generally minimized his involvement in the transaction attempt.
“The senator was not involved in the creation of an alternative electoral roll and had no prior knowledge that it would be delivered to our office. This was a staff-to-staff exchange. His new chief of staff contacted the vice president’s office,” Henning tweeted.
But Johnson told reporters Tuesday afternoon: “I was basically not aware of it.”
“My Chief of Staff contacted the Vice President’s staff and said, ‘Do you want this?’ They said ‘no’ and we did not deliver it and that is the end of the story, “he said.
Johnson said “someone delivered” the envelope to his office, and it asked his staff to deliver it to the vice president. The senator declined to say who reached out to his office.
Asked Tuesday afternoon whether he supported the effort to get the ballot for Pence, Johnson said: “I had no knowledge of this.”
“I had no idea it would be delivered to us at all. It got staff delivered to the staff. My chief of staff did the right thing, contacted the vice president’s staff. They said they did not want it, so we did not deliver it.” he said.
But even other Republicans have a hard time believing that Johnson’s aide would be brave enough to give a false list of voters to Pence in an attempt to stop the certification of Biden’s victory without warning his boss in advance.
Late. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said Wednesday that he wants to know more about who was involved in the effort to get Pence to throw the duly elected voters off Michigan and Wisconsin.
“My first reaction was a shock. Then Senator Johnson said he was not aware of it. I and others like myself would like to dig into it, find out who knew what and when. It is clear that an attempt on a false list of voters would hit the heart of our democracy, “he said.
The House of Representatives panel, which investigated last year’s attacks on the Capitol on Tuesday, published a chain of texts showing Riley’s attempts to establish a hand-off between the senator and the vice president.
“Johnson must deliver something to VPOTUS, please advise,” Johnson’s aide sent a text message to Pence Assistant Chris Hodgson shortly before the congress met for a joint session to confirm the election result.
When Hodgson asked what it was, Riley wrote, “Alternative ballot for MI and WI because archivist did not receive them.”
“Do not give it to him,” Hodgson replied succinctly.
The revelation angered Johnson’s Democratic colleagues, who say his staff may have broken the law by trying to send a fake set of voters to Pence.
“Absolutely appalling if that happened,” said Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). “I hope the details are fully explored by the press in a way that people get their hands on and understand how important it is when you start trying to replace voters from what a state has certified and submitted.”
Late. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Whose state duly elected voters could have been thrown out if Pence accepted and sent out the contents of the envelope, said attempts to overturn the results of a lawful election would be a violation of the law.
“First of all, it’s awful that they actually had a separate group of voters and thought it was okay. “I do not know what happened to Senator Johnson, but he has certainly promoted ‘the big lie,'” Stabenow said.
Asked if an inquiry by the ethics committee is justified, Stabenow said: “It is very serious. We are leaving it to the ethics committee.”
But she added “it’s serious if he still recognized some of this as legitimate.”
“False voters would literally be an attempt to overthrow the government,” she added.
Johnson said Democrats are already attacking him because of the extradition attempt.
Wisconsin Lieutenant Mandela Barnes, who is running in the Senate Democratic primary to challenge Johnson in November, accused the Republican senator of trying to undermine democracy.
“He was literally trying to give Mike Pence fake ballots. Once again, Ron Johnson has proven that he is a danger to our country and our fundamental rights. I urge him to resign immediately,” Barnes said.
Philip Schulman, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said instead of focusing on what’s best for the Wisconsinites, “Johnson’s focus in Washington is on undermining democracy.”
A poll by Marquette Law School of 803 registered Wisconsin voters, released Wednesday, showed Barnes led Johnson 46-44 percent in a hypothetical matchup.
The same poll showed Johnson was behind Democratic candidate Sarah Godlewski by two points and narrowly beat Democratic candidate Alex Lasry by three points.
However, Brandon Scholz, a Wisconsin-based Republican strategist, predicted that the impact of the committee’s January 6 revelation would have little impact on the outcome of the Senate race.
“Not many people are worried,” he said of the news coming out of the committee’s hearings on January 6. “It really is a kind of DC show. Whether this has any traction among the voters here or not, today I would say no.”
Scholz said there is “so much content” in the committee’s January 6 investigation that “it rejects people.”
He acknowledged that their numbers were not enough to defeat Democrats. “
And, he said, “I do not think Republicans will take this as something that will make them vote against Johnson.”