None of this information is new. Johnson’s eagerness to solicit testimony from ex-Ukrainian official Andrii Telizhenko was the subject of public alarm and a previous intelligence community warning. Johnson has been dismissive of complaints about his reliance on known dodgy sources, though he was pressured into giving up on the idea of taking Telizhenko’s testimony directly.
Reading between the lines here, then, at least one part of Democratic lawmakers’ concerns appear to be that Sen. Johnson is using his committee and “Biden” investigations to legitimize foreign disinformation operations targeting Biden in the 2020 election—or, rather, that at least one foreign disinformation campaign is targeting Johnson, using his eagerness to boost Trump’s election chances to dispense election disinformation directly from the mouths of Republican senators.
There are a few things to know here. Most importantly, Johnson cannot claim gullibility in stovepiping foreign disinformation here. After a specific intelligence community warning and after mountains of public reports on the sketchiness of Giuliani’s Ukrainian associates, many of whom are pro-Russian Ukrainians forced from their positions by the public and new government, and their debunked claims against their enemies. Johnson has continued to “investigate” information that has already been discredited, and it is clearly intended, like “Benghazi,” as means of influencing upcoming elections. Ron Johnson knows precisely what he is doing and who he is dealing with.
So the question is not whether Russian and other foreign disinformation campaigns are targeting Johnson, but the extent to which Johnson is co-conspiring with those brokers to craft and release election-bending smears cooperatively. In his defense, Sen. Ron Johnson is widely regarded as one of the dullest senators in the institution, if not the most dull, and so there is the slightest possibility he does not see himself as coordinating with the disinformation campaign—or, more accurately, does not connect the dots as to what that coordination means, when tied to foreign disinformation sources.
Johnson has long been a puzzle, and that is putting it mildly. He was one of a collection of hard-right Republican lawmakers who inexplicably traveled to Moscow for the Fourth of July, in 2018, and who came back claiming that the Russian hacking and disinformation campaigns in the 2016 presidential elections were being blown “way out of proportion.”
There’s no particular reason to believe Johnson is not stovepiping foreign disinformation willingly. That was the very premise of Rudy Giuliani’s “legal” help to Trump’s electoral needs. Johnson was also vociferous in defending Trump when Trump extorted the Ukrainian government by withholding military aid until that government agreed to give a public announcement supporting that disinformation, leading to Trump’s impeachment.
What Democrats are not publicly saying, but should, is that Johnson is not acting as target of a foreign disinformation effort, but a co-conspirator. He is a full ally of the Trump-Giuliani-Ukraine-Russia disinformation campaign.