Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) stands between Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) during a news briefing following a Feb. 14, 2020 meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyivv, Ukraine. (Shutterstock)
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) stands between Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) during a news briefing following a Feb. 14, 2020 meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyivv, Ukraine. (Shutterstock)

Republican senator turns to the usual targets rather than acknowledging using Ukraine as a pawn to help Trump’s campaign.

Sen. Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who acknowledged in 2020 that his frequent committee hearings on Ukraine “would certainly help Donald Trump win re-election,” is now claiming it was Democrats who made it easier for Russia to invade, because of the impeachment of the former president for his attempted extortion of Ukraine’s leader.

“I don’t think Vladmir Putin would have moved on Ukraine were it not for the weakness displayed—certainly by the Biden administration but also by the west in general,” Johnson said on a Sunday morning talk show. “And I’m certainly hoping that Col. [Alexander] Vindman, [US Rep.] Adam Schiff, [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi, who used Ukraine as a pawn in their impeachment travesty are also recognizing, reflecting how they weakened Ukraine, weakened the west, weakened America by the divisive politics that they play.”

But when Johnson made similar assertions online on Saturday, the response traffic was fast and firm.

“You tried to push the narrative as recently as 2019 that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent for counterintelligence and investigating suspected foreign agents, in a Twitter exchange. “You were being fed this info by people linked to Russian intel and the FBI *warned* you about it. And still you persisted. You can sit down.”

Johnson spent much of the 2020 presidential campaign trying unsuccessfully to link the Hillary Clinton campaign or President Joe Biden’s son Hunter with the spreading of Russian disinformation—claims repeatedly debunked. The FBI went so far as to warn him that he was a likely target for Russian attempts to sow division in the United States. Johnson not only ignored it but said he believed the FBI was acting in coordination with Democrats to create a warning designed to smear him.

On Saturday, Johnson responded to Rangappa by mentioning claims made as part of a Trump administration effort to find out what caused the 2016 investigation of Russian election interference. But Daniel Goldman, former lead counsel for the US House impeachment of Trump, corrected him and pointed out how the claim about suspicious internet traffic involving servers tied to Trump relates to a separate matter and “NOT the debunked, bogus Russian disinformation you peddled throughout 2020. Completely different.”

Rangappa added Saturday evening, “Nice try changing the subject to something completely unrelated, Senator. If it helps, I wrote a two-part explainer for @just_security on how you were a direct (and apparently witting) conduit for Russian disinformation.”

On Sunday, Trump appeared before the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference and again called Putin “smart” for invading Ukraine. He described it as “genius” days earlier. Johnson has not yet been asked if he is critical of Trump’s assessment.

Johnson has an equally checkered history on disseminating wrong information about COVID-19, the integrity of the 2020 election, and the Jan. 6 attack on Congress

This article has been revised to correct the first name of Col. Alexander Vindman.