This week, the House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into the Capitol Riot on Jan. 6 revealed that Johnson’s chief of staff was trying to provide Vice President Mike Pence with a list of fake voters who support Trump, raising questions about the Wisconsin Republican’s role in a conscious and coordinated plan to block Biden wins and gives Trump the presidency.
The revelation also underscores the extent of Johnson’s role as one of Congress’ most prominent deniers and apologists on January 6 – spreading conspiracy theories about false votes and downplaying the seriousness of the violent attack on the Capitol as mostly “peaceful”, while hovering idea that it could have been one internal job of the FBI.
Johnson, who is up for election this year, has been haunted by scandals and controversial statements since joining Trump. He has spread false information about coronavirus, was accused of racism for saying that he would have been concerned if Black Lives Matter protesters flooded the Capitol on January 6 instead of mostly White Trump supporters, and is under fire for using taxpayers’ funds for flights between Washington and his Florida home. Some Democrats and political experts say this latest revelation of direct communications in the form of text messages between Johnson and Pence staff on Jan. 6 could affect voters in a state on the battlefield where elections are won by a small margin.
‘What has happened within the last 24 hours is different. It’s one thing to formulate off-the-wall political views, it’s another thing to possibly have helped in a coup attempt, ”said Kenneth R. Mayer, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Johnson’s possible Democratic opponents – the primary election in Wisconsin is in August – attacked him immediately, arguing that the texts provide tangible evidence to voters that Johnson was part of an attempt to cancel thousands of Wisconsinites’ votes. A poll published Wednesday by Marquette Law School, but done before the latest revelations, Johnson found he was single-digit behind after three of his four potential opponents.
Senate Democratic nominee Tom Nelson, who had previously pushed for the committee to sue Johnson on Jan. 6, urged the senator on Wednesday to resign. “Today’s revelations go beyond anything I could have imagined, for how far Ron Johnson would go to overthrow our election result in Wisconsin. Johnson should not only step back and be sworn in, but all signs point to evidence of a crime, which the U.S. Department of Justice is required to investigate. “
Wisconsin Lieutenant Mandela Barnes, who is also running in the Democratic Senate primary, urged Johnson to “resign immediately.”
“Ron Johnson was actively trying to undermine this democracy. He was literally trying to give Mike Pence false ballots. Once again, Ron Johnson has proven that he is a danger to our country and our fundamental rights,” Barnes said in a statement.
“Ron Johnson is a rebellious traitor and a danger to democracy,” tweeted Alex Lasry, another Senate candidate.
Sarah Godlewski, treasurer of Wisconsin and another Democrat vying to challenge Johnson, called him “a threat to our democracy and a disgrace to our state.”
Johnson spokeswoman Alexa Henning rejected the criticism. “The senator’s democratic opponents are always trying new ways to avoid talking about their disastrous democratic policies,” she said. “The senator has never considered resigning as a result of dozens of false attacks already made against him. Why should this absurd attack be any different?”
Henning did not answer specific questions about the text messages or Johnson’s knowledge of the fake election documents.
Johnson has denied his involvement in the plan to supply fake Trump voters to Pence. A text message displayed during the hearing, from Johnson’s chief of staff Sean Riley to Pence assistant Chris Hodgson and sent minutes before the congressional joint session to confirm Biden’s victory, said “Johnson must hand over something to VPOTUS, please advise.”
“What is it?” Hodgson answers. “Alternative election list for MI and WI because archivist did not receive them,” Riley writes. “Do not give it to him,” Hodgson replies.
Johnson told reporters on Tuesday that a person from the House, “some staff trainee,” brought the envelope to his office and said it should be handed over to the vice president. Johnson claims his office tried to make the transfer, but the vice president’s staff rejected it, and that was the total involvement of his staff. “I had no finger in it,” Johnson said. “This is a total non-story.”
Johnson acknowledged that “he was aware that we were getting something delivered 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.
Johnson later 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 was not talking to anyone.
“The bottom line is that Johnson is not stupid – he needed to know what the context was at the moment, what happened on January 6, what was going on at home; he was far down the rabbit hole of ‘Stop the Steal’ efforts. “Said Charlie Sykes, a prominent former Republican who has long been against Trump. Sykes, who lives in Wisconsin, said that” the very specific, easy-to-understand “picture of the text messages from Johnson’s staff to the Vice President’s office referring to deputies , takes an effort to overturn the choice from an abstract performance to something tangible.
The January 6 committee unpacked a few other details on how the Wisconsin plan came together. Andrew Hitt, a former chairman of the Wisconsin GOP, signed on to be a false voter for Trump. In testimony to the committee, Hitt said he believed Trump’s list of deputies would only be used if the Trump campaign won its legal challenges.
“I was told that these would only count if a court ruled in our favor,” he said. Otherwise, “it would have been to use our constituents in ways we were not told about and we would not have supported,” Hitt said in a clip shown during the hearing.
A package tracking shows that the package of certificates was shipped to Wisconsin on December 16, but was first accepted by an employee of the National Archives in Washington on the morning of January 4th. Later that day, Mark Jefferson, the executive director of the Republicans of Wisconsin, texted someone: “Freaking Trump idiots want someone to send original ballot papers to the Senate president. They’ll call one of us to tell them us, what the hell is going on. “
Hitt and Jefferson did not respond to requests for comment.
Jeffrey Mandell, a lawyer from Wisconsin on a lawsuit filed in May against the fake Trump voters in the state, said there are still many gaps in the timeline, including who from the Trump campaign was in contact with Hitt and Jefferson and who provided the fraudulent documents to Johnson’s office. Mandell pointed out that the front page included with the alternate list of voters sent to Washington was on the official Republican Party of Wisconsin stationery.
Mandell said that while many questions remain, the committee’s implication of Johnson is a confirmation of the senator’s role in trying to overthrow the 2020 election.
“We have known for a long time that he was a supporter of the ‘big lie’ and was willing to say and do anything to promote the ‘big lie,'” Mandell said. “He continues to waffle and for the most part he continues to entertain the ‘big lie’ and support these conspiracy theorists. It was not a terrible surprise, but there is something rather visceral about the image of Senator Johnson trying to physically get these papers for Pence in the light of day, on the senate floor, at the central time just before Congress began counting votes. ”
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.