Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) adamantly denied Monday that Ukraine felt any pressure from the U.S. to conduct investigations in return for military aid, and recalled that President Donald Trump had rejected the idea out of hand.
Johnson elaborated on some of his past statements Monday evening to a letter earlier that day from Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee; and Jim Jordan (R-OH), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, “reluctantly” asking Johnson to provide any firsthand information he had about President Trump’s interactions with the Ukraine, since he had been involved in some of the debates over military aid.
JORDAN and NUNES have formally and “reluctantly” asked Sen. Ron Johnson for any first-hand information he has about Trump and Ukraine. Their Saturday letter: pic.twitter.com/fVzePlwEGo
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) November 18, 2019
Noting that his letter (via Axios) came “after most of the depositions have been given behind closed doors, but before all the public hearings have been held,’ Johnson declared: “I view this impeachment inquiry as a continuation of a concerted, and possibly coordinated, effort to sabotage the Trump administration that probably began in earnest the day after the 2016 presidential election.”
He noted that he had traveled in May to the inauguration of President Volodymyr Zelensky as a member of the official U.S. delegation, and his purpose was to show the strength of Congress’s support for Ukraine.
He said that two moments had stood out. One was when Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official who is one of Democrats’ key witnesses in the impeachment hearing, contradicted him publicly in front of U.S. embassy staff. Johnson said that Ukraine was key to the U.S. strategic confrontation with Russia, and Vindman tried to correct him, declaring that the U.S. relationship with Ukraine was separate from the rivalry with Russia.
“My blunt response was: ‘How in the world is that even possible?'” Johnson recalled.
He said that Vindman’s interjection was noteworthy because
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.” They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office.
American foreign policy is what the president determines it to be, not what the “consensus” of unelected foreign policy bureaucrats wants it to be.
Second, Johnson remembered the “delegation concern over rumors that Zelensky was going to appoint Andriy Bohdan, the lawyer for oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, as his chief of staff.” Secretary of Energy Rick Perry conveyed that concern to the new Ukrainian government, Johnson said, but Zelensky later appointed him anyway.
Later, Sen. Johnson recalled, he and others met President Trump in the Oval Office on May 23 to discuss a visit by President Zelensky. Trump “expressed strong reservations,” both because he saw Ukraine as corrupt and because of its “rumored meddling in the 2016 election.” He did not mention former Vice President Joe Biden or Burisma — the company where Biden’s son, hunter, served as a highly-paid board member.
Johnson said that he pushed Trump to reconsider. The president agreed to keep his concerns private but asked, Johnson said, that they be conveyed to Zelensky.
Crucially, Johnson said that he did not recall that U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland directed anyone to work with the president’s personal lawyers, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. “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,” Johnson noted.
Throughout subsequent interactions with Ukrainian officials, Johnson recalled, “At no time during those meetings did anyone from Ukraine raise the issue of the withholding of military aid or express concerns regarding pressure being applied by the president or his administration.”
Later, Johnson said, after the hold on aid had been leaked to the press, Sondland told him in a phone call that Ukraine could be told that the president would release the aid if “Ukraine did something to demonstrate its serious intention to fight corruption and possibly help determine what involvement operatives in Ukraine might have had during the 2016 U.S presidential campaign, then Trump would release the hold on military support.”
Noting his previous public comments that he had “winced when that arrangement was described,” Johnson said he did not want to see aid delayed for any reason, given the need to stand up to Putin and his trust in Zelensky.
In a subsequent conversation with President Trump, Johnson recalled, Trump rejected the very idea of tying aid to investigations:
I asked him about whether there was some kind of arrangement where Ukraine would take some action and the hold would be lifted. Without hesitation, President Trump immediately denied such an arrangement existed. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, I quoted the president as saying, “(Expletive deleted) — No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?” I have accurately characterized his reaction as adamant, vehement and angry — there was more than one expletive that I have deleted.
Trump also said that Trump seemed to barely know Sondland.
Later, in a meeting with Zelensky, Johnson conveyed Trump’s concerns about corruption. He added that the meeting was frank and open, and that the Ukrainians never mentioned any expectation that they would have to do anything particular to receive U.S. aid.
Johnson concluded by rebuking bureaucrats who substitute their judgment for the president. He noted that the impeachment process had damaged U.S. democracy, and that if the “whistleblower” had hoped to protect U.S.-Ukraine relations, he or she had done the opposite.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.