Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, aired legally debunked theories of election fraud and accused a Democratic counterpart of lying during a bizarre Senate hearing on Wednesday.
“Joe Biden won our state by 20,000 votes,” Johnson told President Donald Trump’s top Wisconsin lawyer, Jim Troupis, during an exchange about a court case that the state’s majority-Republican Supreme Court rejected. “You’re talking about over 200,000 votes that are outside our law, that if the law had been followed, probably should not have been counted.”
Johnson’s position, though still shared by the president, is growing increasingly unpopular within his own party. Outgoing Attorney General William Barr stated earlier this month that the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread election fraud. Earlier this week, several Senate Republicans—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)—acknowledged Biden as president-elect for the first time.
When Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), the committee’s ranking member, referenced foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, Johnson launched into a vigorous rant about disinformation. He claimed that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and Democrats were the true “purveyors” of Russian propaganda.
He cited accusations made by Democratic senators that he was spreading Russian disinformation during the committee’s investigation of Hunter Biden.
“That’s where the false information, the lies... are coming from,” Johnson, who is up for re-election in 2022, said. “I can’t sit by here and listen to this.”
“Mr. Johnson, I’ve got to respond to that,” Peters responded.
“Try!” Johnson interjected. “You lied repeatedly in the press that I was spreading Russian disinformation and that was an outright lie and I told you to stop lying and you continued to do it.”
“Mr. Chairman, this is not about airing your grievances, I don’t know what rabbit hole you’re running down right now,” Peters said, before being interrupted again by Johnson, who banged his gavel. “This is terrible what you’re doing to this committee,” Peters added.
Johnson turned the floor over to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who went on to claim the election was “stolen.” He falsely stated that courts had rejected Trump’s suits for technical, rather than factual, grounds.
Wednesday’s hearing offered a platform to Trump campaign lawyers who raised doubts about Biden’s win in key swing states and claimed that judges had refused to give them a fair hearing. However, multiple judges, including many conservative appointees, have thoroughly addressed claims of fraud and rejected the campaign’s lawsuits both on merit and fact.
Chris Krebs, the nation’s top cybersecurity official who was fired by President Trump in November, was also called to testify. He continued to do the job the president had fired him for: refuting conspiracies about election fraud.
“That’s what rumor control is about. That’s what I’m continuing to do today,” Krebs said. “We have to stop this. It’s undermining confidence in democracy.”
He asked Republican officials to stop spreading lies, saying that it was resulting in death threats being made against election officials. “I would appreciate more support from my own party, the Republican party, to call this stuff out and end it. We gotta move on,” he said.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) agreed, calling the hearing “shameful.”
“If we continue to push what the courts have overwhelmingly called baseless claims of fraud… we become complicit in threats and attacks against election officials and ordinary citizens,” he said.
Nevertheless, several Republican senators used the hearing to continue sowing doubt about the election result. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and James Lankford (R-OK) argued that it was worth pursuing claims of fraud because so many Americans believed fraud had occurred—conveniently ignoring that this may be the result of Republicans continually insisting fraud occurred.
Johnson justified the hearing as an opportunity to “talk honestly,” to look at allegations and “if they can be explained, take them off the table.”
Shortly before the hearing ended, Trump, who must have missed the bipartisan praise for Krebs, tweeted, “Chris Krebs was totally excoriated and proven wrong at the Senate Hearing on the Fraudulent 2020 Election. Massive FRAUD took place with machines, people voting from out of state, illegals, dead people, no signatures—and so much more!”