Wisconsin's U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is a robotic defender of Donald Trump. Unbothered by evidence that the president lied to him during a phone conversation about the Ukraine scandal that has sparked an impeachment inquiry, Johnson has championed the president so ardently that he sparks disbelief.
During an interview last month on NBC’s "Meet the Press," host Chuck Todd interrupted the Wisconsinite to say, “Sen. Johnson, please! Can we please answer the question that I asked you, instead of trying to make Donald Trump feel better here that you’re not criticizing him?”
Yet, Johnson has kept at it. Even after evidence emerged that he was part of an “irregular channel” of administration aides, appointees and allies who were involved in wrangling over the withholding of aid to Ukraine as part of a scheme to force the country’s president to do Trump’s domestic political bidding, Johnson kept making excuses. Even after The New York Times headlined an article about Johnson: “‘He’s in Deeper Water Than Most’: G.O.P. Senator at Center of Impeachment Inquiry,” he has remained obscenely loyal to Trump.
That was painfully obvious last week, a few hours before Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman delivered damning testimony about Trump’s wrongdoing to the House Intelligence Committee, at the beginning of an extraordinary week of impeachment hearings. As the decorated military veteran — who has served as a top National Security Council staffer — was preparing to testify, he was the subject of a crude and dishonest attack by Johnson.
“A significant number of bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch have never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style and his intrusion onto their ‘turf,’” Johnson wrote in a letter to committee Republicans. “They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile.”
Johnson — the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a fierce partisan who recently declared that he does not trust the FBI and the CIA — was not dealing in facts. He was seeking to prop up the desperate Republican effort to defend an embattled president.
The attack on Vindman revealed that Johnson’s moral compass is broken. And U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Town of Vermont, called him out for it. “Sen. Ron Johnson's unsubstantiated attacks on Lt. Col. Vindman — a decorated, Purple Heart veteran — is what's wrong with Congressional Republicans,” declared the congressman. “Attempting to discredit an American hero solely on behalf of an angry House GOP is unacceptable.”
True enough. But there is another way to denounce Johnson — by recalling the words of attorney Joseph Welch when he confronted one of the senator’s predecessors.
“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator,” Welch told Joseph McCarthy. “You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com and @NicholsUprising.
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