In the News: Blog

On June 4, 2020, the Senate committee I chair granted me the authority to issue subpoenas for records and testimony to certain agencies and individuals relating to the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation, the “unmasking” of U.S. persons affiliated with the Trump campaign, and allegations of the political corruption of US agencies.

What we actually told NBC News before they trotted out a Democrat group’s smear

An NBC News reporter, Heidi Przybyla, was used as a conduit July 29 for a new Democrat attack on Sen. Ron Johnson after he didn’t cave in to earlier Democrat pressure to stop looking into possible foreign interference in the 2016 election.

In it, Przybyla amplified Democrats’ recycling of previously debunked claims around Senator Johnson’s sale of his last interest in his family’s Oshkosh manufacturing company. She cited a short dossier of talking points from a new Democrat dark-money group calling itself the Congressional Integrity Project, and Przybyla quoted from the group’s top operative, Kyle Herrig, who insinuated that there was something untoward about the senator selling his 5% share in the manufacturing company.

There wasn’t anything untoward, even according to people often critical of Senator Johnson. “I criticized WI Sen. Ron Johnson after reports tonight of his large stock sale were lumped in with reports of other senators selling in dubious circumstances. But the details of Johnson’s sale are different from those of the others. I withdraw the criticism; it’s unfair to him,” wrote journalist John Nichols of the Nation on Twitter. Dan Primack wrote on Axios that it “was a vanilla private equity deal that was negotiated before almost anyone had heard of coronavirus.”

The deal, announced Feb. 11, 2020, had been in the works since 2018. Under it, a private equity firm, Gryphon, invested in Senator Johnson’s company, in the process buying the senator’s share. Other members of the senator’s extended family will remain significant owners. They will continue managing it, as they have done since Senator Johnson gave up any managerial role after being elected to the Senate in 2010.

Przybyla asked questions about the sale and about the senator’s other assets — which are publicly disclosed in accordance with Senate rules — and the senator’s staff provided detailed answers and a follow-up briefing to Przybyla. In the interest of transparency, those details are provided here for the public.

Przybyla asked for comment to her claim that “Johnson’s stake in the company increased by millions from 2017 to when he sold it in 2020.” She’s referring to the disclosure of the sale — available here — as being “between $5,000,001 and $25,000,000.” Senate disclosure forms require asset values and sale prices to be reported as within broad brackets, not in exact amounts. The senator’s share of the company had been reported every year as being worth between $1,000,001 and $5,000,000 — the applicable category. When the senator sold the share, its value had risen enough to push it over the line into the next higher category.

Przybyla was told that when the senator’s full 2020 disclosure is made public, the sale will not result in an increase in his net worth — because the proceeds will not be sufficient to increase the money market account into which he deposited them into a higher bracket. The likely effect is a drop in reported net worth as the share in his family’s company comes off the tally.

Przybyla didn’t include this. But because of the breadth of the categories, she was able to get a source to assert, without evidence, that it was “a very big sale.”

Przybyla asked why, if the share sold for more than $5 million, it had been reported as worth between $1,000,001 and $5,000,000 for years. She was told the simple reason: It was a share in a privately held family company — one without regular sales of shares to reveal any change in the value of the company. The value of companies with publicly traded stocks are discovered daily by the price at which shares trade. But Johnson’s company had been held since he bought it back from an outside owner in the 1990s, so there had been no market test of what the share was worth. The $1-$5 million figure was a best estimate according to disclosure rules’ requirements.

Przybyla asked why the senator hadn’t put his share of the company in a “blind trust,” and she claimed without evidence in her story that he had promised to do so in his 2010 campaign. She cited only a July 9, 2010 press release from Johnson’s campaign saying he “is taking steps to move financial assets” to such a trust.

Przybyla was directed repeatedly to the step the senator took instead in 2010 and 2011 to sell off all publicly traded stocks he owned and shift the proceeds into cash forms, such as money market accounts. A blind trust conceals from its holder the identity of the shares in it so that a politician cannot know he has an interest in policy affecting a company. Not having shares in publicly traded companies but only in cash form goes a step farther, although it came at the cost of lower returns: The Dow Jones index opened in 2011 at 11,671, and closed at 24,719 at the end of 2017. By staying in cash over that period, Senator Johnson knowingly and willingly missed out on the 112% market increase.

Przybyla then asked why Senator Johnson didn’t put his share of his family’s company, which he no longer managed, into a blind trust. It was explained to her that his knowing that the trust contained a known share of his own family’s company would defeat the fundamental point of a blind trust. She seemed not to grasp the point.

Przybyla asked about the senator’s small share in DP Lenticular, an Irish company; she seemed to have been told by Democrats that it was suspect. Johnson’s staff informed her that the senator’s share, worth between $250,000 and $500,000 every year he’s been in the Senate, was an investment to establish a sales agency for products that his company manufactured in Oshkosh and exported to Europe. “I have small investment, primarily so I can see the financial information,” he told a reporter in 2016. Far from serving as a “shelter” for income, as Przybyla insinuated, the senator earned no returns on his investment or any income aside from a de minimus dividend that amounted to less than $5,000 in 2018.

One of Przybyla’s most remarkable questions stemmed from her reliance on the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website, which attempts to calculate politicians’ net worth off their public financial disclosure forms. Przybyla asked how Senator Johnson’s “net worth, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, (jumped) from $24 million when he was elected in 2010 to $78 million in 2018? (considering he sat out the market?)”

She was given the straightforward answer: It didn’t. Open Secrets was wrong when it reckoned the senator’s net worth, and wrong when the Democrat attack group fed Przybyla the story idea.

Remember that financial disclosures report the value of assets as falling with ranges. Open Secrets adds up the minimum values of each asset and the maximum values, reports the totals and estimates a politician’s net worth as the average of the two. Przybyla’s claim about how much Senator Johnson’s net worth “jumped” is based on Open Secrets’ erroneous estimate of his assets’ value (see it here) as “totaling $28,202,028 to $128,732,000 in 2018.” The midpoint of these figures is $78 million, the figure Przybyla asked about.

But Open Secrets’ tally of the senator’s assets was wrong: The Center for Responsive Politics double-counted many of his assets, using slightly different names. The center, or Przybyla, could have seen this if they compared the tally to the senator’s filed disclosure forms, which Open Secrets even offers, here.  

But they didn’t.

The result of Open Secrets’ screw-up, which they quietly have corrected, was to overstate the senator’s net worth by a factor of two. The website did the same double-counting mistake on at least some of his assets in 2017 (see here), and has quietly corrected that, too.  

The result? The Center for Responsive Politics’ estimate of Senator Johnson’s net worth is not far above what it was the year he first took office. It is in fact in the same range it has been since he was elected. This means that Przybyla’s claim that the senator “is likely to have increased his wealth anywhere from 50 percent to 100 percent since he took office” is simply wrong according to the source she goes on to cite.

Przybyla was misled by the Democrats’ dirt-digging group that fed her the story.

This should not be surprising. Senator Johnson and his partner in investigating possible corruption surrounding the 2016 election, Sen. Chuck Grassley, called out this week the Democrats’ concerted smear campaign meant to derail the investigation.  

Johnson told the Washington Examiner that the attacks won’t deter him. “National Democrats and the Biden campaign have now escalated their rhetoric in what appears to be an attempt to silence our investigation,” he said. “These attacks will not deter me, but serve to only increase my curiosity. What are Democrats afraid I might find?”

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As seen in the Wall Street Journal.

No More Blank Checks From Congress for Coronavirus

By U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson

A near-record 158.8 million Americans were employed in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Then the novel coronavirus brought parts of the economy to a screeching halt. As of June, 142.2 million people were employed, a reduction of 16.6 million, or about 10.5%. Recent economic forecasts have predicted a decline in gross domestic product of between 4.6% and 8% for 2020. The damage from Covid-19 has been significant, but not catastrophic.

Congress authorized $2.9 trillion of Covid-19 relief, which represents 13.5% of 2019’s U.S. GDP. No one knows exactly how much of the Covid relief has been spent or obligated, but 60% ($1.75 trillion) seems to be a consensus figure in Congress. Let that sink in. We’ve authorized enough spending to replace 13.5% of annual economic output, and more than $1 trillion of it hasn’t yet been spent or obligated.

So why is Congress rushing to pass at least $1 trillion more? For Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, $1 trillion isn’t enough. The House has passed an additional $3 trillion in Covid-19 relief, which would bring the total to $5.9 trillion, 27.5% of GDP. Again, employment has declined 10.5%, and respected estimates of GDP decline are 8% or less. Why should Congress provide financial support greater than the reduction in GDP?

When President Obama entered office, the total national debt was $10.6 trillion. I was elected as part of the tea-party movement, which was concerned that debt had grown to $14 trillion during his first two years as president. Nine years later, the debt stands at $26.5 trillion and will be close to $28 trillion by the end of this fiscal year. Is no one concerned about how much of our children’s future is mortgaged?

When Congress passed the $2.9 trillion in March, there was a great deal of uncertainty and a danger of economic collapse. Congress had to act quickly and demonstrate that sufficient financial support would be provided. But we’ve weathered that storm and now have much more information.

For example, a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine based on serological testing showed that the number of Covid-19 cases could be six to 24 times the number reported. Applying these estimates to the most recent U.S. case fatality rate (CFR) of 3.6% yields an infection fatality rate (IFR) between 0.15% and 0.6%. Oxford’s Center for Evidence-Based Medicine has been predicting an IFR for Covid-19 between 0.1% and 0.41%.

The nine-year average IFR for seasonal flu in the U.S. is 0.13%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The IFR in a bad flu season (2010-11) was 0.176%. I am not playing down the tragedy of the coronavirus. But there is no need to continue broad economic shutdowns with fatality rates in these ranges.

Treatment is improving, as evidenced by the reduction in case fatality rates. With a growing list of better therapeutics and the development of a possible vaccine, one can imagine a more optimistic economic future that doesn’t require another $1 trillion in debt-financed spending.

And just because Congress has waited until the end of July doesn’t mean the new proposed relief package has been properly deliberated. Possible elements of the package are only now being discussed publicly.

Since the Small Business Administration has disclosed recipients of Paycheck Protection Program loans greater than $150,000, news reports have revealed that the PPP lacked basic controls that any future program and expenditures must contain. Loan forgiveness shouldn’t be granted to organizations that have the ability to repay. A simple fix would require repayment of PPP loans to the extent a taxpaying entity has taxable income for 2020, or a tax-exempt organization has increased net assets.

There is no doubt the PPP was a lifeline to many organizations and their employees. But there’s also no doubt many groups that received loans—and will almost certainly have those loans forgiven—didn’t need them. As the largest single expenditure of the Cares Act, the PPP deserves more scrutiny. The Main Street Lending Program should also be reviewed carefully.

Remember, we don’t know how much of the $2.9 trillion allocated for economic relief has been spent. Congress hasn’t conducted sufficient oversight of its previous handiwork. Doesn’t it make more sense for Congress to evaluate what has been spent, determine what worked and what didn’t, and then redirect the balance based on what Congress finds? We shouldn’t authorize another dime until we do so.

As we find solutions to the humanitarian crisis at our southern border, it’s important to ask how many unaccompanied minors and, primarily, adults and children presenting themselves as families we could see crossing our southern border illegally if we do nothing to change the situation.

 

Earlier this year, media in Guatemalan reported the results of a poll that asked Guatemalan citizens about migration.

  

The answer: 25.3 percent of Guatemalans surveyed told pollsters they intend to migrate out of the country in the next three years. In another question, 85% of those asked to name a country they had thought to emigrating to picked the United States.

Guatemala has about 17.6 million people. If 85 percent of that quarter of them planning to emigrate indeed do choose to move here, that implies that about 3.7 million Guatemalans may come to the United States – more than a fifth of that country’s population.

 

You can see the results of the survey, in Spanish, on slides 38 and 39 here

It isn’t just Guatemala. The Gallup organization reported in December 2018 that 158 million adults worldwide -- 21% of those polled -- desire to immigrate to the United States.

 

Gallup reported that 750 million adults worldwide (that is, 15%) told pollsters they want to move permanently to another country. The United States is the most-named destination. Gallup said 27% of adults in Latin America and the Caribbean say they want to move to another country, and that total reaches 52% of adults in El Salvador, 47% in Honduras.

 

Gallup doesn’t say what share of those large percentages specifically want to emigrate to the United States. But the polling organization estimates that if all adults worldwide could migrate as they wish, the U.S. adult population would rise by 46%. You can see Gallup’s result here.

One of the great successes of the Trump administration has been to reduce the regulatory burden on American job creators and spur economic growth like we haven’t seen in years. The numbers are startling – as I mentioned during an interview with "Meet the Press" Sunday, Republican policies have led to business investment growth that’s 10 times faster than what we saw under President Obama. That seems hard to believe, but the numbers don’t lie.

 

During the final two years of President Obama’s second term, real business investment growth increased by just 0.6 percent annually. Under the Trump administration, business investment has increased by more than six percent. That is a 10-fold increase made possible at least in part because we’ve cut red tape and gotten the federal government out of the way.

 

Check it out for yourself. You can find the data here. You want to look at table 5.3.1, and the figure you need is “private fixed investment, nonresidential.”

Sen. Johnson spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday about the harm Obamacare's failures have caused Wisconsinites, notably with the unsustainable levels of Medicaid spending. During his remarks he outlined an amendment he is offering to preserve traditional Medicaid for future generations.

Video of Sen. Johnson's remarks can be found here.

Graphs that were used during his remarks are below:

Senator Johnson recently sat down with The Wall Street Journal for an interview regarding his ideas for tax reform. Simply put, “this entails cutting taxes on corporations while raising them on shareholders. Citing studies that find corporate taxes are partly borne by a company’s workers, Senator Johnson says that ‘Rather than make the employees pay the tax, let the owners pay the tax,’ he says, referring to it as ‘a true Warren Buffett tax’.”

“Senator Johnson would like corporate shareholders to be taxed at the same rate as ‘pass-throughs,’ entities such as limited-liability corporations, whose profits are taxed in the hands of the owners at individual rates. The corporation itself wouldn’t owe tax. Instead, it would notify each shareholder of its share of annual profits and then forward that shareholder’s estimated tax to the Treasury.”

 

To read the article in its entirety, follow the link below.

A Plan B for the GOP: Raise Warren Buffet's Taxes

Wall Street Journal

March 8, 2017

Read the story here.

During Sen. Johnson's Feb. 16 teletown hall, a constituent asked a question about the existence of voter fraud. Below is a link to a piece in the Wall Street Journal on the issue, as well as a compilation of cases of cases of prosecuted and convicted voter fraud. 

Voter Fraud a Myth? That's Not What New York Investigators Found
Wall Street Journal
February 7, 2017

Read the story here.

A Sampling of Election Fraud Cases From Across the Country

Read about the cases here.

Some have questions about the role of one of the president’s advisers, Steve Bannon, and the National Security Council. This is the latest background on the facts of the situation from the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan research arm of the Library of Congress. 

Trump Administration Changes to the National Security Council: Frequently Asked Questions

January 30, 2017

http://www.crs.gov/Reports/IN10640?source=search&guid=fe4a444b3a46497cbf30ee380caa221b&index=1

On January 28, 2017, the Trump Administration issued National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) 2: Organization of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council. The memorandum details how the executive branch intends to manage and coordinate national and homeland security issues among relevant departments and agencies. In keeping with the practices of prior administrations, the White House issued the memorandum early in its tenure. Since the memorandum was signed, some media reports have incorrectly characterized the manner in which the Trump administration appears to be organizing itself to manage national security matters. These FAQs are intended to clarify the terms and structures associated with the National Security Council (NSC).

What is the National Security Council?

Since its inception in 1947, the National Security Council, and the institutions that support it, has evolved from a statutorily-mandated meeting of cabinet-level officials into a complex system of coordination, adjudication, and in some instances formulation (as in the case of Dr. Kissinger's tenure as National Security Advisor) of policies among relevant departments and agencies. As a result, when individuals refer to the "NSC," they variously refer to the decisionmaking body created in statute in the 1947 National Security Act, the staff that supports that decisionmaking body, or the processes used by the White House to discuss and adjudicate decisions across different agencies of the executive branch.

  • The National Security Council is the President's statutory advisory body on matters related to national and international security. Pursuant to Title 50 U.S.C §3021, the NSC's statutory members are the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of Energy. Other senior officials, including the National Security Advisor, participate in NSC deliberations at the President's request. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence are the NSC's statutory advisers. The National Security Council is chaired by the President.
  • The National Security Council Staff. The NSC's activities are coordinated and directed by the Presidentially-appointed National Security Advisor (NSA). They are supported by a National Security Staff (NSS, or NSC staff) comprising permanent employees of the Executive Office of the President and "detailees" from other government agencies serving temporary assignments. It is organized into offices that focus on a variety of long-term strategic issues and ad hoc working groups that address emerging topics. Each President configures the NSC to address risks to U.S. global security interests according to proscribed policy priorities. The size of the NSC staff and ratio of political appointees to detailees has varied with each administration. In P.L. 114-328, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, Congress limited the number of policy-focused individuals serving on the NSC staff to 200 persons. During the Obama Administration, the Homeland Security Committee and National Security Council staffs were combined into an organization called the National Security Staff.
  • Decisionmaking committees. Coordinating and managing U.S. national security affairs requires routine coordination and discussion among relevant departments and agencies. Most administrations have therefore set up a hierarchical system of committees designed to discuss, and when appropriate decide, national security matters. These committees meet as frequently as the White House deems necessary. The design and composition of the committee structure is the prerogative of the President, but the approach has often included some variant of the following:

The Principals Committee (PC) is a level below the NSC, convened by the National Security Advisor. The PC does not need to include all statutory NSC members, but generally includes the heads of departments or agencies involved with the subject matter being discussed at a given meeting.

The Deputies Committee (DC) is convened by the Deputy National Security Advisor, and generally includes the deputy heads of departments (i.e., the Deputy Secretary of Defense or Deputy Secretary of State) involved with the subject matter being discussed at a given meeting.

Policy Coordination Committees (PCC) are established by the Deputies Committee and are responsible for day-to-day management of national security matters on a given region or topic at the Assistant Secretary level from relevant agencies. These are chaired by members of the National Security Staff whose subject matter portfolios are relevant to the issue at hand. Different administrations have used various titles for these committees; under President Obama, this forum was called the Interagency Policy Committee.

Overall, the NSC and its supporting processes and institutions are purposefully designed to be flexible in order to afford the President maximum latitude to create a security advisory body that suits his unique decisionmaking styles. Apart from appropriating its annual budget, Congress has little oversight over the Executive Office of the President, and the National Security Council system in particular, due to the fact that most national security positions within the White House itself (as opposed to the Departments and Agencies) are not currently subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. Some observers over the years have argued that the position should be subject to Senate confirmation and that the National Security Advisor should be available to testify before congressional committees as are officials from other Government departments and agencies. Others argue that a President is entitled to confidential advice from his immediate staff (see CRS Report RL30840, The National Security Council: An Organizational Assessment).

What is the history and relationship between the NSC and Homeland Security Council (HSC)?

The HSC was created by President George W. Bush soon after the terrorist attacks in the United States with the responsibility of "ensuring coordination of homeland security-related activities of executive departments and agencies and effective development and implementation of homeland security policies." Post 9/11 Administrations have undertaken different approaches to the interaction between the NSC and HSC. Under President Bush the NSC and HSC focused separately on international and domestic security issues. Soon after taking office President Obama merged the NSC and HSC into a National Security Staff with the focus of "support(ing) all White House policy-making activities related to international, transnational, and homeland security matters." The Trump Administration has returned to two separate entities with the NSC and HSC "responsible for the effective coordination of the security-related activities and functions of the executive departments and agencies."

NSPM-2: What's changed? What's stayed the same?

It is not yet fully clear how the Trump Administration intends to organize itself for national security matters, due to the fact that the White House indicated on January 30th that it intends to revise NSPM-2 to ensure that the CIA director (D/CIA) is included "in the NSC." Still, based on the existing documentation, the following key observations can be made:

  • Role of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) and the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). NSPM-2 language on the role of CJCS at NSC and PC meetings is nearly identical to that agreed upon by the George W. Bush Administration. In their roles as statutory advisors to the National Security Council, CJCS and DNI are invited to attend all National Security Council meetings. CJCS and DNI shall also attend meetings of the Principals Committee "where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed." The Obama administration departed from its predecessor by making CJCS and DNI "regular members" of the Principals Committee. It is not clear whether the Trump administration's reversion to the Bush formulation amounts to an actual change to either the Chairman's or DNI's roles and participation in senior national security meetings, although CJCS himself maintains that he will "remain a full participant" in the national security interagency process. With respect to the White House's intention to add D/CIA to the National Security Council, it is unclear what effect this might have on DNI's role as statutory advisor to the NSC (once they are appointed and confirmed).
  • Inclusion of the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist as a regular NSC and PC attendee. While previous Presidents have, upon occasion, requested the attendance of their chief political strategist at NSC meetings, the Trump Administration appears to be the first to include a political advisor as a regular, permanent attendee of such meetings. The law is silent on the inclusion of political advisors as NSC regular attendees.
  • Role of the Secretary of Energy. The Secretary of Energy is a statutory member of the NSC, and as such, is invited to attend all NSC meetings. In contrast with the Obama Administration (although in keeping with the George W. Bush Administration structures), the Secretary of Energy is not included in PC meetings in the Trump Administration.