Elections

Russian Collusion Perps Target Johnson

With Republicans at risk of losing control of the Senate in November, Senator Ron Johnson (R.-Wisc.) needs to work fast. Fortunately, it appears for now that Johnson is undeterred by the Democrats’ attempted character assassination of him.

Still unpunished for the first go-around, Russian collusion perpetrators are taking aim at a new target this time: Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The news media and Democratic lawmakers are accusing the two-term senator of acting as an agent of Russia for continuing to pursue his investigation into the Biden family’s shady ties to Burisma, the troubled Ukranian energy company that paid Hunter Biden millions of dollars while his father was vice president and Obama’s designated “point person” in Ukraine.

The onslaught began last month when Politico reported Johnson planned to subpoena Biden associates after they refused to voluntarily testify. 

“A Senate committee is eyeing subpoenas for current and former advisers to Joe Biden as part of an investigation into the former vice president’s son, an escalation of GOP scrutiny of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and his family,” wrote Natasha Betrand and Andrew Desiderio on July 16. The pair accused Johnson of doing “just what Trump wants.”

Johnson and Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) reportedly started closed-door depositions last month; the Senate’s probe had been delayed first by impeachment then the coronavirus crisis. Johnson, however, is moving ahead and promised to issue a report in September that details how the Bidens and a Democratic-tied public relations firm leveraged their connections during the final few years of the Obama administration to lobby on Burisma’s behalf.

Since impeachment failed to permanently closet the Bidens’ Ukrainian skeletons, Democrats are calling their Hail Mary play—Russian collusion!—to thwart Republican efforts to expose the presidential candidate’s dirty dealings before election day.

In July, at the same time Johnson ramped up his inquiry, top Democratic lawmakers including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requested an FBI briefing over alleged fears that “Congress appears to be the target of a concerted foreign interference campaign, which seeks to launder and amplify disinformation in order to influence congressional activity.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) who has yet to be censured for misleading the American public for more than three years about evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, ironically warned that “we all learned that we need to call out foreign interference early and often [and] if it continues, there needs to be repercussions for it.”

The Biden campaign, in what is actually election interference in order to protect the Democratic candidate and his son from appropriate congressional government oversight, also is assailing Johnson. In a July 22 primer intended to sway media coverage and intimidate journalists who dare to cover the committee’s investigation fairly—a tactic often used by Team Biden that reporters dutifully heed—deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield accused Johnson of chasing “a long-debunked, hardcore, right-wing conspiracy theory” about then-Vice President Biden’s efforts to remove a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating Burisma.

Bedingfield further hinted that Johnson is part of a “foreign influence operation” intended to reelect the president.

Hyperbolic headlines and breathless coverage on cable news now have the smear on repeat. “Russia is actively working to quote ‘denigrate’ Joe Biden. Ron Johnson, senator from Wisconsin, is actively working to denigrate Joe Biden. Are they in cahoots?” asked Nicolle Wallace, one of MSNBC’s many hopeless collusion queens, during a panel discussion last week.

Thus the newest “Russian stooge”—Johnson—has been born.

Unfortunately, Johnson’s Democratic hit squad received a boost last week after a top intelligence official issued a vague statement that claims foreign actors, including Russia, are plotting to meddle in the 2020 elections. Like so many highly-touted documents in Russian collusion history—the October 2016 statement on Russian meddling, the January 2017 intelligence community assessment, the Steele dossier—the one-pager was long on speculation and short on details, with a detectable political bent.

“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’” concluded William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, on August 7. 

“This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”

Before I go further, let me say this: Evanina, once a top aide to both former National Intelligence Director James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan, should not be in any position of power in Donald Trump’s intelligence community. Not only did Evanina also work directly with Andrew McCabe at the Washington FBI field office prior to his promotion to Brennan’s CIA in 2013, his name appears in text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, which is one reason why Grassley held up Evanina’s full Senate confirmation for two years. (He finally was confirmed by the full Senate in May.)

No one with close ties to the chief Russian collusion architects, no matter how sterling his or her credentials, should have a place in the Trump administration.

Further, Evanina’s claim is silly on its face. Putin’s criticism of Joe Biden when he was vice president years ago is evidence of election interference in 2020? That’s the sort of lame excuse Jim Comey used to justify his suspicions that Putin wanted Hillary Clinton to lose. And the notion that pro-Trump commentary on social media or Russia Today is straight out of Brennan’s bogus “intelligence community assessment” on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But no matter: Evanina’s dubious warning is fueling the outlandish notion that the accountant-turned-senator from Oshkosh is acting as an agent of the Kremlin.

“The warning lights are flashing red. America’s elections are under attack,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), citing Evanina’s statement, claimed in an op-ed over the weekend. “Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is moving ahead with an investigation into presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s family using documents provided to the senator by the son of a former KGB officer.”

Blumenthal is referring to Andriy Derkach, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who apparently has the goods on the Bidens. Derkash has released what he insists are phone call recordings between Biden and the former Ukrainian president that confirm Biden’s quid pro quo to release U.S. aid on the condition a prosecutor investigating Burisma was fired.

Derkach’s name—coincidentally or not—appears in the Biden campaign memo, a “classified” addendum to Pelosi’s July letter, Evanina’s election meddling statement, and in several news articles blasting Senator Johnson. (More on Derkach in a follow-up piece this week.)

Johnson, to his credit, is not backing down. In a lengthy letter posted August 10, Johnson articulated the history of his committee’s investigation into the Biden-Burisma scandal, listing several questions that both Bidens should be compelled to answer.

“In their current attempt to circle the wagons around Biden, they have once again decided to weaponize a false ‘Russian disinformation’ narrative as a tool for attacking their political opponents,” Johnson wrote. “We didn’t target Joe and Hunter Biden for investigation; their previous actions had put them in the middle of it.” Johnson also subpoenaed FBI Director Christopher Wray to appear before the committee on August 20 and produce all documents related to his agency’s investigation into the Trump campaign.

With Republicans at risk of losing control of the Senate in November, Johnson needs to work fast. Fortunately, it appears for now that Johnson is undeterred by the Democrats’ attempted character assassination of him.

As for Joe Biden, as I will explain later this week, his Ukrainain problems are far from over.