While many of the GOP senators sent on a delegation to Moscow the week of July 4 agreed that the meetings were tense as they attempted to hold the Kremlin's feet to the fire, one outlier is singing an entirely different tune.
The Daily Beast reported that in interviews with the website, all but one of the senators agreed that behind closed doors, they grilled Kremlin officials about a host of issues — most notably, about Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. That's what makes public comments from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) all the stranger.
After returning from the trip, which lasted nine days, Johnson told reporters that Russia's electoral interference is “not the greatest threat to our democracy," and that Americans have "blown it way out of proportion." He also suggested the US re-evaluate its sanctions against the country, claiming that "you'd be hard-pressed to say that sanctions against Russia are really working all that well," the Beast noted.
Johnson's comments stand in direct contrast to public statements made by the likes of Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), who yesterday told CNN that he personally warned Kremlin officials to "stop screwing with American elections." He also had choice insults for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who he called a "bully" and a "wise-ass."
"The Russian leadership that we met with talked about the sanctions and how they were making no difference, but then they kept talking about the sanction," Kennedy told the Beast.
The Louisiana senator told the Beast that in a briefing by ambassadors at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, the group was informed that the Kremlin believed "only Democrats were critical of Russia for its election-meddling and its incursions into eastern Europe and the Middle East." Kennedy then sought to "disabuse them of that notion" and convey the seriousness of the threat of increased sanctions.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), another member of the delegation, suggested to the Beast that Johnson may have drawn his conclusions about the effectiveness of the sanctions from a group of American businesspeople they met with in Russia. Johnson, the report noted, has appeared to walk back his comments since he first made them upon returning to the US from Moscow.
"We need to take a look at what works," the Wisconsin senator told the Beast. "We need to get something that works to actually change their behavior. I’m not talking about lessening them at all.”