Republican Sen. Ron Johnson up to his neck in Trump's Ukraine imbroglio

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson up to his neck in Trump's Ukraine imbroglio
Sen. Ron Johnson, photo by Gage Skidmore, CC

Sen. Ron Johnson, genius, is emerging as a key figure in the unfolding story of Donald Trump's attempted extortion of Ukraine and “investigation” into the ridiculous conspiracy theory that Ukrainian officials interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

Johnson, probably the only member of the Senate stupid enough to actually believe the conspiracy theory, is tragically well-positioned to pursue it. He's chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, and vice chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, as well as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. In July, Johnson met with a former diplomat from Ukraine, Andrii Telizhenko, who has circulated the conspiracy theory. Telizhenko told The Washington Post in an interview that he had met personally with Johnson for at least half an hour and that he'd talked with Johnson's staff for an additional five hours.

This plunks Johnson in even deeper. He admitted nearly a month ago that he knew military aid was being withheld from Ukraine until that country initiated an investigation into his and Trump's pet conspiracy theory. He told The Wall Street Journal that he found out about that in August and called Trump to ask about it, but that Trump vehemently denied the quid pro quo. Johnson is one of the chief cheerleaders and instigators of Attorney General William Barr's moonlighting as Trump's personal lawyer and fixer. He wrote about Telizhenko's story in a letter to Barr, saying, "Such allegations of corruption deserve due scrutiny, and the American people have a right to know when foreign forces attempt to undermine our democratic processes."

That works one way, obviously. Johnson, who spent the Fourth of July of 2018 in Moscow, dismissed the entire intelligence community's evidence that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election, saying, "We've blown it way out of proportion." That might be because some of that Russian money that was funneled into the election via the NRA helped get him reelected.

All of this should argue that Johnson recuse himself from the eventual impeachment trial in the Senate. "This is the most important and sacred obligation of the Senate—to make the decision about whether or not a sitting president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors," said Corey Brettschneider, a professor of political science and expert in constitutional law at Brown University. "It would stain the process even if the jurors had a potential conflict. This shouldn't be a legalistic question, but one of the basic integrity of senators." Assuming Johnson has any integrity, which is not a safe bet.

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