Sen. Ron Johnson under fire over fake-electors disclosure at hearing

Weeks before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) held a hearing on election fraud in an attempt to legitimize former president Donald Trump’s false allegations of voting irregularities. 

Four days before the attack on the Capitol, Johnson signed a statement with nine other Republican senators that they intended to object to certifying Joe Biden’s electors and demand “an emergency 10-day audit of the election.”

This week, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot revealed that Johnson’s chief of staff tried to deliver to Vice President Mike Pence a slate of fake electors backing Trump, raising questions about the Wisconsin Republican’s role in a deliberate and coordinated plan to block Biden’s win and give Trump the presidency.

The disclosure also underscores the extent of Johnson’s role as one of Congress’s most prominent election deniers and Jan. 6 apologists — spreading conspiracy theories about rigged votes and playing down the severity of the violent assault on the Capitol as mostly “peaceful,” while floating the idea that it might have been an inside job by the FBI.

Johnson, who is up for reelection this year, has been dogged by scandals and controversial statements since aligning himself with Trump. He has spread false information about the coronavirus, was accused of racism for saying he would have been concerned had Black Lives Matter protesters flooded the Capitol on Jan. 6 instead of mostly White Trump supporters,

and is under fire for using taxpayer funds for airfare between Washington and his Florida home. Some Democrats and political experts say this latest revelation of direct communication in the form of text messages 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 off-the-wall political positions, it’s another thing to possibly have assisted in a coup attempt,” said Kenneth R. Mayer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Johnson’s possible Democratic opponents — the Wisconsin primary is in August — immediately attacked him, arguing that the texts provide tangible evidence to voters that Johnson was part of an attempt to nullify the votes of thousands of Wisconsinites.

A poll released Wednesday by Marquette Law School but conducted before the latest revelations found Johnson trailing three of his four potential opponents by single digits.

Senate Democratic candidate Tom Nelson, who previously had pushed 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 for how far Ron Johnson would go to overturn our Wisconsin election result. Johnson should not only resign and be placed under oath, but all signs point to evidence of a crime that the U.S. Department of Justice is obligated to investigate.”

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is also running in the Democratic Senate primary, called on Johnson to “resign immediately.”