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Treasury Sanctions ‘Active Russian Agent’ Behind Giuliani Smears Of Biden

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions Thursday on a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker the agency said had been serving as "an active Russian agent for over a decade."

The lawmaker, Andrii Derkach, is the son of a former KGB officer and also happens to be a key source of disinformation for top allies of Donald Trump who have been actively working to smear Joe Biden with baseless claims of corruption. Chief among those allies are Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

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Violating Washington’s Mask Ordinance At Trump International Hotel

Multiple high-profile visitors to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., have posted photos of themselves inside the building breaking city regulations meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus — rule violations that could lead to thousands of dollars in fines.

Current and former Trump administration officials, as well as GOP lawmakers and other Republican media personalities, have posted photos of themselves to social media inside the hotel's common spaces without wearing masks or maintaining six feet of space between other guests.

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October Surprise Part II: How Ron Johnson Unwittingly Exposed Trump's Ukraine Plot

Today we publish the second article in a three-part series by Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the "Obamagate" conspiracy theory promoted by the Trump White House, its media allies, and Republicans on Capitol Hill -- notably Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. In the first installment Blumenthal explained how Johnson came to serve as Trump's instrument in the creation of "multiple untruths" to distract from the criminal realities exposed by the Mueller Report and the prosecutions of Michael Flynn and Roger Stone. It concluded with Johnson's bizarre visit to Moscow in July 2018, where he advanced Trump's coverup of Russian interference in the 2016 election -- and opposed the extension of US sanctions on Russia. The second installment examines Johnson's role in the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump's impeachment.

This series was first published by Just Security, an electronic journal based at the Reiss Center for Law and Security at New York University Law School, and is reprinted with permission.


The Ukraine Scheme

In April 2018, Trump hired Rudy Giuliani, as his personal attorney, who in turn hired two associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Russian born businessmen living in Florida, where they had contrived a variety of sketchy schemes. (One of Parnas' firms, Fraud Guarantee, which had no identifiable customers or office, paid Giuliani a $500,000 consulting fee.) At a dinner at the Trump Hotel on April 30, Parnas reportedly told Trump that the U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was "unfriendly to the president and his interests," that her presence stood in the way of the Giuliani operation. Trump vehemently replied that she should be fired.

The effort to discredit and oust Yovanovitch was launched immediately. On May 9, Parnas and Fruman got Congressman Pete Sessions, a Republican of Texas, to write a letter to the State Department demanding her dismissal, claiming she had "spoken privately and repeatedly about her disdain for the current Administration," in exchange for a promise to raise $20,000 in campaign contributions through a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action. Sessions appeared as "Congressman-1" in the federal indictment of Parnas and Fruman. "Parnas and Fruman committed to raising those funds for Congressman-1. Parnas met with Congressman-1 and sought Congressman-1's assistance in causing the US Government to remove or recall the then-US Ambassador to Ukraine," the indictment stated.

Giuliani's group quickly added new partners, who reportedly met regularly to plan their strategy, using the Trump Hotel as their headquarters. There was, secretly, Congressman Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee with an incorrigible penchant for arcane conspiracy theories, and his aide, Derek Harvey. There were the conservative husband-and-wife team of lawyers, Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, Fox News talking heads, who represented not only Parnas and Fruman but also the Ukrainian oligarch Dimitri Firtash, who had been Putin's man in Kyiv and was under indictment for corruption by a U.S. federal court. And there was John Solomon, the ubiquitous right-wing journalist, who, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, "has a history of bending the truth to his story line" and "distorting facts and hyping petty stories." As it happened, DiGenova and Toensing were his attorneys, too.

Beginning in March of 2019, the team instigated Solomon to produce a series of convoluted articles in his venue, The Hill newspaper in Washington, that asserted that Ambassador Yovanovitch had conspired with Hillary Clinton's campaign and George Soros and his agents to leak damaging information about Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman and the former political consultant for the Russian backed president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, and that the ambassador conspired to suppress Ukrainian investigations into corruption in order to cover up Joe Biden's involvement in his son's business. Solomon also wrote that Firtash was a victim of "the Soros group" and framed by Robert Mueller to get "some dirt on Donald Trump." "I said," Giuliani explained, "'John, let's make this as prominent as possible. I'll go on TV. You go on TV. You do columns.'"

Trump's personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, provided Giuliani with contact information for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "God almighty I have a lot of stuff in writing," Giuliani said, and on March 28 sent over to Pompeo a dossier containing Solomon's articles trashing Yovanovitch. On April 5, six former U.S. ambassadors sent the State Department a letter expressing deep concern about "recent uncorroborated allegations" against here that are "simply wrong."

Yovanovitch sought advice on how to handle Solomon's onslaught from Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union, a former hotelier who had given Trump's inaugural committee a large donation. Sondland told her, "You need to go big or go home," suggesting that she "tweet out there that you support the president." She also consulted Kurt Volker, the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. "It will all blow over," he said.

Meanwhile, William Barr, Trump's attorney general, prepared to go where his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, had not.

On April 10, 2019, Barr announced that he was launching an investigation into "both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign," and emphatically added that "spying did occur." Four days later he appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to conduct the probe. "I think it's a great thing that he did it," Trump said. "I am so proud of our attorney general that he is looking into it. I think it's great." On April 24, Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News that in fact an investigation had unearthed evidence of a plot on the part of Ukraine to help elect Hillary Clinton, "sounds like big, big stuff, and I'm not surprised." Giuliani tweeted, "Keep your eye on Ukraine."

On April 24, Yovanovitch received an abrupt telephone call from Carol Perez, director general of the State Department's foreign service. "She said that there was a lot of concern for me, that I needed to be on the next plane home to Washington. And I was like, 'What? What happened?' And she said, 'I don't know, but this is about your security. You need to come home immediately. You need to come home on the next plane. And I said, 'Physical security? I mean, is there something going on here in the Ukraine?' Because sometimes Washington has intel or something else that we don't necessarily know. And she said, 'No, I didn't get that impression, but you need to come back immediately.' And, I mean, I argued with her. I told her I thought it was really unfair that she was pulling me out of post without any explanation, I mean, really none, and so summarily."

"I do wonder why it's necessary to smear my reputation falsely," Yovanovitch testified before the impeachment committee, "Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want."

George Kent, the deputy assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, confirmed her account in his testimony. "Mr. Giuliani, at that point, had been carrying on a campaign for several months full of lies and incorrect information about Ambassador Yovanovitch, so this was a continuation of his campaign of lies." About John Solomon and his stories, Kent was scathing. "It was, if not entirely made up in full cloth, it was primarily non-truths and non-sequiturs." But the State Department ordered Kent not to complain. "I was told to keep my head down and lower my profile in Ukraine," he said. The intimidation signaled that the Giuliani operation was in charge.

On May 19, Trump gave an interview to Fox News brazenly laying out the conspiracy theory he wanted to be affixed to Biden. "Biden, he calls them and says, 'Don't you dare persecute, if you don't fire this prosecutor'—The prosecutor was after his son. Then he said, 'If you fire the prosecutor, you'll be okay. And if you don't fire the prosecutor, 'We're not giving you $2 billion in loan guarantees, or whatever he was supposed to give. Can you imagine if I did that?"

Johnson's Front Row Seat

A day after Trump's interview on Fox News, Ron Johnson wandered into the scene. On May 20, in Kyiv, he attended the inauguration of the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in the company of Sondland, Volker, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas. Perry seems likely to have had his own ulterior agenda. He would secure a lucrative oil and gas deal from Ukraine for two of his political supporters, who also happened to have hired Giuliani's law firm, after Perry proposed that Zelensky take one of them as an "adviser." At the same time, Giuliani was rooting around Kyiv, trolling for disinformation to use against Biden and meeting with people close to Yuri Lutsenko, the prosecutor general, embittered at Yovanovitch and Biden for their anti-corruption efforts. Lutsenko had met previously with Giuliani and Parnas, volunteered himself as a source for Solomon's stories, but finally had a falling out with Giuliani when he failed to initiate an investigation into Biden.

Johnson came to Kyiv brandishing credentials as a close observer of the state of play. Serving as chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation and vice chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, he had advocated military aid since the Russians had invaded eastern Ukraine in 2015. He arrived amidst the upheaval at the embassy, the orchestrated publicity campaign against Yovanovitch and her sudden removal under the cloud of a false threat to her security. Johnson was surely aware of the broad nature of these events but apparently made not a murmur of protest. He presented himself as an expert on the ground and influential figure in his own right, but he was beginning his career as an innocent abroad.

Upon the delegation's return to Washington, the four men met on May 23 with Trump in the Oval Office. Their agenda, according to Johnson, was to secure a statement in support of Ukraine, an invitation to Zelensky to the White House and the appointment of a new ambassador with "strong bipartisan support." Trump was having none of it. "He said that Ukraine was a corrupt country, full of terrible people," Volker testified. "He said they 'tried to take me down.' In the course of that conversation, he referenced conversations with Mayor Giuliani. It was clear to me that despite the positive news and recommendations being conveyed by this official delegation about the new president, President Trump had a deeply rooted negative view on Ukraine rooted in the past. He was clearly receiving other information from other sources, including Mayor Giuliani, that was more negative, causing him to retain this negative view." "It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the President's mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani," Sondland testified. When the meeting was raised during the impeachment, Johnson's mind went blank on Sondland's account. "I am aware that Sondland has testified that Trump also directed the delegation to work with Rudy Giuliani," he wrote. "I have no recollection of the president saying that during the meeting. It is entirely possible he did, but because I do not work for the president, if made, that comment simply did not register with me." After the meeting, Sondland, Volker and Perry, anointed to work with Giuliani, dubbed themselves "the three amigos."

Indeed it was that Oval Office meeting, Ambassador William Taylor testified, in which "the irregular channel began," with the three amigos, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Giuliani in pursuit of Ukraine investigations of Biden in exchange for military aid and a White House visit.

One other man was present at the May 20 meeting, Charles Kupperman, deputy to National Security Advisor John Bolton, who reported back to Bolton. "It was a classic," Bolton wrote in his memoir, The Room Where It Happened:

"I don't want to have any fucking thing to do with Ukraine," said Trump. "They fucking attacked me. I can't understand why. Ask Joe diGenova, he knows all about it. They tried to fuck me. They're corrupt. I'm not fucking with them." All this, he said, pertained to the Clinton campaign's efforts, aided by Hunter Biden, to harm Trump in 2016 and 2020. Volker tried to intervene to say something pertinent about Ukraine." Trump replied, "I don't give a shit." "Perry said we couldn't allow a failed state, presumably a Ukraine where effective government had broken down." Trump said, "Talk to Rudy and Joe." "'Give me ninety days,'" Perry tried again." Trump interrupted, "Ukraine tried to take me down. I'm not fucking interested in helping them," although he relented to say Zelensky could visit him in the White House, but only if he was told how Trump felt in the matter. "I want the fucking DNC server," said Trump, returning to the fray, adding, "Okay, you can have ninety days. But I have no fucking interest in meeting with him."

Trump's violent obscenities, contempt for Ukraine's precarious security, obsession with conspiracy theories, bottomless sense of personal grievance, and complete knowledge and command of the Giuliani operation somehow escaped Johnson's memory and were airbrushed from his account.

Two weeks earlier, Trump had summoned Bolton to a meeting in the Oval Office with Giuliani. Also present were Trump's chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and legal counsel Pat Cipollone. Trump ordered Bolton to work with Giuliani in dredging up material to be used against Biden and influencing Zelensky to start an investigation. Bolton simply ignored Trump's directive. He wanted no part of what he called a "drug deal." "Even after they became public, I could barely separate the strands of the multiple conspiracy theories at work," Bolton wrote in his memoir.

Giuliani continued his gyrations for an investigation of Biden, but Zelensky did not start a probe and Trump withheld the nearly $400 million in military aid that the Congress had approved. The stalemate led to Trump's notorious "perfect" phone call to Zelensky on July 25. Trump's statement at the top of the conversation was often cited: "I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it." But what followed, the part spelling out the "favor," was his demand for confirmation of his conspiracy theory and for Ukraine to work with Barr to pursue it. "I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you're surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible." In short, the object of the Trump-Zelensky call, a key piece of evidence in Trump's impeachment, is the same object that is central to the overarching conspiracy theory of "Obamagate."

Two weeks earlier, on July 11, Johnson jumped down a rabbit hole to follow the trail of the Trump conspiracy theories. The White Rabbit that Johnson chased was a heavy set and shady Ukrainian named Andrii Telizhenko, a former low-level employee at the Ukrainian Embassy to the U.S. who had parlayed himself into Giuliani's fixer, boasting of smoking fine cigars and sipping expensive whiskey with him from Kyiv to New York. Telizhenko was a man of many dubious deals. He had offered a Ukrainian magazine editor cash to lobby Republican senators on behalf of two pro-Russian media outlets in Ukraine that broadcast propaganda in favor of the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, according to a CNN report. Telizhenko was also the consultant for "international relations" for Pavel Fuks, the Ukrainian oligarch who had reportedly been Trump's partner to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. (Fuks was also Giuliani's client.)

Telizhenko was a fertile source of conspiracy theories for Giuliani, which he retailed to an avid Trump, who insisted to everyone from his attorney general to his national security advisor that they prove to his satisfaction. Telizhenko's tales ranged from Biden's corruption to how the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. ordered him to work with the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to dig up damaging information on Paul Manafort. (Telizhenko's talent was featured on numerous programs broadcast by the pro-Trump, far right One America News Network, including "The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder" and "Ukrainian Witnesses Destroy Schiff's Case – Exclusive with Rudy Giuliani," in which Giuliani interviewed him.) Borys Tarasiuk, Ukraine's former foreign minister, familiar with Telizhenko's antics for years, told the Kyiv Post, "I don't think that this person deserves much attention. He's a crook."

"I was in Washington," Telizhenko recalled, "and Senator Johnson found out I was in D.C., and staff called me and wanted to do a meeting with me. So I reached out back and said, 'Sure, I'll come down the Hill and talk to you.'" Telizhenko told the Washington Post that he and Johnson discussed a whole range of theories, particularly "the DNC issue," focusing on what the Post described as his "unsubstantiated claim" that the Ukraine Embassy directed him to find "incriminating material" on Manafort. Seeking a comment from Johnson, the Post received this strange and uninformative response: "An individual close to Johnson confirmed that staff members for one of his committees met with Telizhenko as part of an ongoing investigation into the FBI and its probes of the 2016 election. The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, declined to say whether the senator was involved." Telizhenko resolved that mystery, posting a picture of himself meeting with Johnson on his Facebook page. How Johnson knew that the peripatetic Telizhenko was briefly in Washington was left unexplained.

Johnson returned to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky on September 5, this time accompanied by Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, and the new U.S. ambassador William Taylor. Zelensky's "first question to the senators was about the withheld security assistance," Taylor testified before the impeachment inquiry. "Both senators stressed that bipartisan support for Ukraine in Washington was Ukraine's most important strategic asset and that President Zelensky should not jeopardize that bipartisan support by getting drawn into U.S. domestic politics." Yet that day Trump extended the hold on the aid.

The whole affair burst open on September 9. Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community notified the House and Senate intelligence committees that a whistleblower had filed a complaint on August 12 about Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden as the price for releasing military aid. The House demanded the release of the complaint and announced it would investigate Trump and Giuliani's operation. On September 10, Bolton resigned. On September 11, Trump released the Ukraine aid. On September 25, the White House released a version of Trump's "perfect" call asking Zelensky to "do us a favor, though." On September 27, Volker resigned. That day, Johnson and Grassley sent a joint letter to Barr, citing Telizhenko as their source, demanding, "Are you investigating links and coordination between the Ukrainian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Hillary Clinton or the Democratic National Committee? If not, why not?"

Johnson Digs a Hole

On October 3, Trump held an impromptu press conference on the South Lawn of the White House. "Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call?" asked a reporter. "Well," he replied, "I would think that, if they were honest about it, they'd start a major investigation into the Bidens. It's a very simple answer." Then he added, "And by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine." Trump's remarks caused an uproar, taken as a brazen confession about Ukraine and committing another offense in his call for China to interfere for his political benefit.

Visiting the Middleton, Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, Ron Johnson immediately defended Trump's comments. "I want to find out what happened during 2016," he said, adding about Trump's call for China to investigate Biden, "I don't think there's anything improper about doing that." The next morning, moving on to Sheboygan, Johnson tried to clean up his statement. "No, and I'm not sure that's what's happening," he said, denying Trump was calling on China to interfere in American politics.

Then Johnson leaped into the breach in a valiant effort to absolve Trump. He seemed to believe that by disclosing previously unknown stories he could be the hero. But in two interviews he gave on October 4, one to the Wall Street Journal and the other to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Johnson seemed to provide further evidence of Trump's guilt and dissembling, and made himself appear to be playing the fool.

To the Wall Street Journal, Johnson claimed that in a phone call on August 31 Trump flatly denied any quid pro quo of Ukraine political assistance for U.S. military aid. "He said, 'Expletive deleted—No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?" Johnson explained that he had learned about the quid pro quo from Sondland the day before. Sondland, he said, told him Ukraine would appoint a prosecutor to "get to the bottom of what happened in 2016—if President Trump has that confidence, then he'll release the military spending." Johnson went on: "At that suggestion, I winced. My reaction was: Oh, God. I don't want to see those two things combined."

To the Journal-Sentinel, Johnson elaborated on the August 31 call with Trump. "I tried to convince him to give me the authority to tell President Zelensky that we were going to provide that. Now, I didn't succeed." The Milwaukee paper reported, "Trump said he was considering withholding the aid because of alleged corruption involving the 2016 U.S. election. Johnson stood by the president, saying he was sympathetic to his concerns and didn't see any bad motives on his part. 'What happened in 2016? What happened in 2016? What was the truth about that?' Johnson said about Trump's concerns."

With his stumbling interviews, Johnson revealed that he had been aware of the internal discussions about a quid pro quo before they were made public with the disclosure of the whistleblower's complaint, that rather than seek the truth of the matter he accepted Trump's falsehoods, and confirmed that Trump's motive involved not one but two conspiracy theories, one about Biden and the other about DNC server. Johnson also appeared to have inadvertently made himself into a material witness in an impeachment inquiry with a conflict-of-interest in serving as a juror in a Senate trial. "Republican Sen. Ron Johnson just did Trump no favors on Ukraine," ran the headline on an analysis in the Washington Post by Aaron Blake. Johnson "apparently thought [he] might help President Trump weather his Ukraine problem. But what he said was decidedly unhelpful for Trump."

Instead of rescuing Trump, Johnson had created more trouble. His effort to wipe up his little mess trying to justify Chinese interference had led to a bigger mess that seemed to implicate Trump in all the charges against him. Johnson now tried to contain his muddle with more damage control. He booked himself on NBC's Meet the Press for Sunday, October 6. His performance was an overlooked minor absurdist classic, half Samuel Beckett and half Abbott and Costello. Johnson was waiting for Godot to arrive with the answer to his quandaries while explaining who was on first.

The dialogue started with Chuck Todd, the host of Meet the Press, playing himself as an earnest journalist asking the question that should be asked, in other words, the straight man. "Let me start with something you told the Wall Street Journal late last week. You had said when Mr. Sondland — Gordon Sondland seemed to imply that — the frozen military aid was connected to a promise by Zelensky for investigations, you said, 'At that suggestion, I winced. My reaction was, 'Oh God. I don't wanna see those two things combined.'" Why did you wince and what did you mean by 'those two things combined?'"

Johnson's opening lines established a tone of whining victimization followed by a non sequitur. "Well, fir– first of all, your setup piece was –you know, typically, very unbiased. But, you know, le — let me first, before I started answering all the detailed questions, let me just talk about why I'm pretty sympathetic with what President Trump has gone through. You know, I'm 64 years old. I have never in my lifetime seen a president, after being elected, not having some measure of well wishes from his opponents. I've never seen a president's administration be sabotaged from the day after election. I — I've never seen — no– no measure of honeymoon whatsoever. And so what President Trump's had to endure, a false accusation — by the way, you've got John Brennan on — you oughta ask Director Brennan what did [FBI agent] Peter Strzok mean when he texted [FBI agent] Lisa Page on December 15th, 2016?" (Strzok had been removed from the Mueller investigation after his text messages to Page, which contained anti-Trump sentiments, were disclosed.)

With the formalities of throat clearing out of the way, the interview took off. It is worth quoting at some length to convey the full extent of the Trump defender dissolving into dogmatic incoherence in the face of the skeptical reportorial question.

CHUCK TODD:
–I have no idea why—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
We're gettin'– no, that's– that's—
CHUCK TODD:
–why—
SEN.RON JOHNSON:
–a setup. It is entirely—
CHUCK TODD: — why a Fox—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–relevant to this point.
CHUCK TODD:
–why a Fox News conspiracy, propaganda stuff is popping up on here.
SEN.RON JOHNSON:
It is—
CHUCK TODD:
I have no idea—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
It is not. That is—
CHUCK TODD:
I have no idea—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–that is– that is exac—
CHUCK TODD:
–why we're going here.
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–that is ex– that is—
CHUCK TODD:
Senator, I'm asking—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
Because this is underlying—
CHUCK TODD:
–about–
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–exactly why—
CHUCK TODD:
I'm as—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–President Trump is upset and why his supporters are upset—
CHUCK TODD:
All right, w—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–at the news media.
CHUCK TODD:
Oh, okay, this—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
You know– you know, Chuck—
CHUCK TODD:
–is not about the media—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–here's the deal, here's the deal—
CHUCK TODD:
–Senator Johnson — Senator Johnson, please!

At this point, Johnson launched into a lengthy discussion of how the Ukraine government supposedly tried to help Hillary Clinton, ending with the assertion, "There is potential interference in– in the 2016 campaign—"

CHUCK TODD:
Let me ask you this—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
That's what Trump wants to get to the bottom of. But the press doesn't want to.
CHUCK TODD:
Ambassador—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
The people who wrote this article are being pilloried. I'm being called a conspiracy theorist. John Solomon's being called a conspiracy theorist because the press is horribly biased. And Trump and his supporters—
CHUCK TODD:
Hey, look—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–completely understand that.
CHUCK TODD:
–I understand that a way to avoid answering a question is to attack us in the press. I'm well aware of that.
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
No, no, well—
CHUCK TODD:
And that doesn't work.
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–I'm tr– I'm trying to lay—
CHUCK TODD:
Let me ask you something—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–the groundwork in order to answer your question—
CHUCK TODD:
So Senator, do you– do you not believe the Russians interfered in the presidential elections to benefit Donald Trump?
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
They– they abs– they absolutely did. They absolutely did. And I don't know to what extent the Ukrainians did. I don't know to what extent DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign were involved in kinda juicin' up the– the Ukrainian involvements as well.
CHUCK TODD:
Do you just ask those—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
There are a lot of unanswered questions. Chuck, I just want the truth. The American people want the truth.
CHUCK TODD:
So, do you not trust the Amer—
SEN.RON JOHNSON:
Trump– President Trump's supporters—
CHUCK TODD: –do you not trust the FBI?
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–want the truth.
CHUCK TODD:
You don't trust the CIA? I'm—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
No, no I don't—
CHUCK TODD:
–I'm just very confused here
SEN.RON JOHNSON:
Absolutely not—
CHUCK TODD:
You don't trust any of those—

Round and round went Johnson, repeating the names of officials of the FBI and CIA he said he did not trust, while Todd vainly attempted to return the interview to a standard question-and-answer format.

SEN. RON JOHNSON:
No, I don't trust any of these guys in the Obama administration. I don't trust any of 'em.
CHUCK TODD:
Senator, let me ask you this.
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
I– I– I've got—
CHUCK TODD:
'Cause one of the things—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–a lotta questions that have remained—
CHUCK TODD:
–one of the things—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–not answered.
CHUCK TODD:
–that you came on here to do—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
I just want the truth, Chuck.
CHUCK TODD:
I– so would I—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
I just want the ch– truth. No, you—
CHUCK TODD:
So would I—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–you — you set this thing up totally biased. I could never really get into the full narrative. We don't have enough time to go through all the things I can talk about in terms of—
CHUCK TODD:
You're right. Because you came here—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–my interaction with the president—
CHUCK TODD:
–and chose to bring up something about Lisa —
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
No, you– you s– you started—
CHUCK TODD:
–Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.
SEN.RON JOHNSON:
–the piece with something incredibly biased that– I– I would never be able to get the truth out.
CHUCK TODD:
Senator, I– I– I don't know why you just came on here to personally attack the press and avoid answering questions—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
Be– because of your setup piece—
CHUCK TODD:
–about what's happened here.
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
Because of your setup piece.
CHUCK TODD:
Senator, it's pretty clear– we're only dealing with the facts that we have, not the facts—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
No, that– that– that's what I wanna—
CHUCK TODD:
–that you wish them to be.
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–deal with and I can't get the answers. And I can't get the answers. The American people can't get the answers. Something pretty fishy happened during the 2016 campaign. And in the transition, the early– the early part of the Trump presidency, and we still don't know. Robert Mueller was—
CHUCK TODD:
We do know the answer.
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–completely blinded and he– he'd never—
CHUCK TODD:
You– you're choosing—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–he never looked into any of that.
CHUCK TODD:
–you're choosing not to—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
And he should've.
CHUCK TODD:
You're—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
Ho– hopefully—
CHUCK TODD:
–you're just making a choice—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–hopefully, William Barr will.
CHUCK TODD:
You're ch– you're making a choice—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
Hopefully, William Barr—
CHUCK TODD:
–not to believe—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
–will get to the bottom of this.
CHUCK TODD:
You're making a choice not to believe the investigations that have taken place, multiple—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
No, I'm– I'm trying to get to the truth. I wanna look at the entire truth, Chuck.
CHUCK TODD:
Does the truth—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
The media doesn't.
CHUCK TODD:
And the truth is only when it– when it benefits– when you believe—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
No, but that's—
CHUCK TODD:
–it politically—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
You're totally false—
CHUCK TODD:
–comfortable with you? I don't understand—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
You're– you're totally incorrect—
CHUCK TODD:
–what truth are you looking for—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
I want the complete truth.
CHUCK TODD:
So– well, so are we—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
I want the complete truth.
CHUCK TODD:
I'm sorry that you chose—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
I doubt that.
CHUCK TODD:
–to come on this way, Senator. Thanks very much. Joining me now—
SEN. RON JOHNSON:
I'm– I'm sorry you started the piece that way.

And, so, Johnson's effort at damage control was concluded, but only at the commercial break. He resumed explaining himself a month later. Once again, attempting to help Trump, he got himself into more trouble.

(To be continued.)


Author's note and full disclosure: When Sen. Johnson disclosed his list of people he intends to subpoena in his "Obamagate" probe, my name appeared on it. Apparently, this involves the most obscure conspiracy theory within the larger conspiracy theory, a "second dossier" to Christopher Steele's Dossier originating with the Clinton campaign. There is, in fact, no such "second dossier," which is not a "dossier" at all but two emails consisting of raw notes of an inquiring journalist that he collected from conversations about Trump's Russian relationships, sent to some friends, including me, which I shared with another longtime friend, who unbeknownst to me happened to share it with his longtime friend, Christopher Steele, who unbeknownst to that friend sent a paragraph he found interesting in one of the emails to the FBI. None of this had anything to do with the Clinton campaign; no one in this chain knew who the next person would share it with; and none of it had any relevance to anything significant that subsequently occurred. I debunked this conspiracy theory in testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on June 16, 2019. It seems that Johnson and his crack staff have failed to properly acquaint themselves with the work of that Republican-led but bipartisan committee.


Sidney Blumenthal is the author of All the Powers of Earth, the third volume in his five-volume biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, published in September 2019 by Simon and Schuster. the first two volumes are A Self-Made Man and Wrestling with His Angel. He is the former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. He has been a national staff reporter for The Washington Post and Washington editor and writer for The New Yorker. His books include the The Clinton Wars, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, and The Permanent Campaign. He has been a senior fellow of the NYU Center on Law and Security and is a fellow of the Society of American Historians.




Giuliani Contradicts Trump Claim That IRS Is Auditing His Taxes

Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said on Sunday that his client's tax returns are not being audited, exposing a lie Trump has used for years to keep his tax records secret. Trump has long said that he would release his tax returns publicly once the audits he claimed were being conducted were completed, beginning as far back as the start of his campaign for president in 2015.

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