Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) was well aware that President Donald Trump was withholding military aid to Ukraine.
The House Intelligence Committee report has a section on Johnson’s conversations with EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland about Ukraine. While Johnson attended a Moscow briefing over the American Independence Day holiday in 2019, Johnson knew Trump wasn’t keen on the country from the beginning.
In a May 23 meeting, Johnson joined Secretary Rick Perry, Ambassador Sondland, Ambassador Kurt Volker and the president to discuss Ukraine under the new Zelensky regime. According to the report, the group “took turns” making their case “that this is a new crowd, it’s a new president” in Ukraine who was “committed to doing the right things,” including fighting corruption.
When Sondland spoke to Johnson on Aug. 30, the ambassador said that he was concerned about Trump’s decision to withhold military aid. Johnson reported that Sondland told him if Ukraine would “commit to ‘get to the bottom of what happened in 2016—if President Trump has
that confidence, then he’ll release the military spending,'” the report cited on page 130.
The following day, Johnson spoke to Trump about the decision, and Trump chanted “no quid pro quo,” but told Johnson he would not “authorize Senator Johnson to tell Ukrainian officials that the aid would be forthcoming,” the report continues.
“The message that Ambassador Sondland communicated to Senator Johnson mirrored that used by President Trump during his July 25 call with President Zelensky, in which President Trump twice asked that the Ukrainian leader ‘get to the bottom of it,’ including in connection to an investigation into the debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton,” the report also said.
All 17 of the U.S. intelligence agencies, by contrast, found that Russia was at fault for the 2016 hack. The only intelligence agency saying Ukraine was responsible is Russia’s. Johnson now says, however, that allegations against Russia are “overblown.”
According to The Shepherd Express, Johnson has tried to have it both ways on Ukraine and Russia.
“But Johnson fell silent after Trump made his absolute contempt for Ukraine clear in private White House discussions, calling the struggling democracy ‘a phony country’ that should really be part of Russia,” the Express reported.
Sondland ultimately testified that he didn’t dispute Johnson’s recollection of their call in August. By that time, Sondland said he had concluded that “if Ukraine did something to demonstrate a serious intention to fight corruption, and specifically addressing Burisma and the 2016, then the hold on military aid would be lifted.”
It is unknown if Johnson intends to recuse himself from the Senate vote given his involvement with the scandal.