Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, said Sunday that his involvement with a plan to submit alternative electors on January 6, 2021, only “lasted seconds,” and that his role had been “overblown.”
Johnson is up for reelection in Wisconsin in what appears to be a tough contest against Democratic challenger Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. The GOP senator, ahead of January 6, had received a slate of alternative—or “fake electors” as critics call them—that would have given Wisconsin’s and Michigan’s electoral votes to then-president Donald Trump, despite President Joe Biden winning in both states.
A staff member from Johnson’s office reportedly attempted to pass the slate of fake electors to Vice President Mike Pence. But a Pence staffer rejected the idea, according to text messages, and they were never handed over.
“I had nothing to do with the alternate slate. I had no idea anybody was going to ask me to deliver those. My involvement in that attempt to deliver spanned the course of a couple seconds,” Johnson told local ABC News affiliate WISN-TV 12 in an interview broadcast Sunday.
“I think I fielded three texts and sent two, and talked to my chief of staff that, ‘somebody wants you to deliver something,'” the Republican senator said. “Yeah, I knew nothing about it. And in the end, those electors were not delivered because we found out from the vice president’s staff they didn’t want them delivered. End of story.”
He then accused the House select committee investigating the pro-Trump January 6 riot against the U.S. Capitol of blowing the incident “out of proportion.” Johnson then reiterated that he had “virtually no involvement.”
“My involvement lasted seconds,” the GOP lawmaker said.
Newsweek reached out to a spokesperson for the House select committee for comment.
During a June hearing of the House committee, Casey Lucier, investigative counsel for the commission, described how a plan to use “fake electors” to sway the outcome of the 2020 election played out. Lucier focused attention on a text message exchange between Sean Riley, an aide for Johnson, and Chris Hodgson, an aide for Pence.
Moments before the joint session in Congress commenced on January 6 to approve the real electors and validate the election in Biden’s favor, Riley texted Hodgson with a request.
“Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise,” Riley texted.
“What is it?” Hodgson responded.
“Alternate slate of electors from MI and WI because archivist didn’t receive them,” Johnson aide Riley said.
“Do not give that to him,” Pence’s aide replied.
The issue of fake electors has led to subpoenas from the Justice Department, which is carrying out its own probe of January 6 and the Trump-backed effort to overturn Biden’s election victory. Several individuals were already subpoenaed as part of that investigation.
Johnson, like many Republicans, has criticized the House committee. He has accused the nominally bipartisan commission of engaging in a “a highly-partisan exercise.” The committee has two Republican members who are both staunch critics of Trump, Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.
Johnson was not among the Republican senators who voted against Biden’s electors in key swing states. While 147 GOP members of Congress participated in the effort to overturn the will of American voters, most of them serve in the House—with just eight senators backing the effort.
Asked in December 2020 whether Biden’s election victory was legitimate, Johnson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he believed it was. “Yes. I haven’t seen anything that would convince me that the results—the overall national result—would be overturned.”