In the News: Blog

August 10, 2020 

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.  Two months later, after patiently trying to work with these agencies and individuals on a voluntary basis, I have decided to begin issuing subpoenas primarily because of my strong belief that transparency in government is essential and that the American people have waited too long for the truth.  Also, because Democrats have initiated a coordinated disinformation campaign and effort to personally attack Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and me for the purpose of marginalizing the findings of our investigations, I think it is important for me to lay out the history, purpose and goals of our ongoing oversight.

A Senate resolution tasks my committee with investigating, among other issues, “the possible existence of … corruption or unethical practices … [and] conflicts of interest[.]”  Our current investigations fall well within this authority and have focused on two primary areas: first, allegations of conflicts of interest within the Obama administration related to Ukraine policy and, second, allegations of corruption within the Obama administration affecting the 2016 election, the transition between administrations, and Obama administration holdovers’ sabotage of the Trump administration.  

My committee began investigating corruption in the Obama administration in March 2015 when it was revealed that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was violating State Department policy, and possibly section 793(f) of the criminal code, by her extensive use of a private e-mail server for official and classified government business.  We quickly uncovered information about how Secretary Clinton’s private e-mail server was stored.  Based on documents from the company hired to manage her server, we discovered that the method for storing and maintaining the server raised numerous concerns regarding security and preservation of records.

Our investigation also uncovered and made public the extensive editing of then-FBI Director James Comey’s July 5, 2016, statement that exonerated Secretary Clinton.   We found that edits to Comey’s statement downplayed the seriousness of her actions in several ways. They replaced “gross negligence” with “extremely careless.” They weakened a conclusion that it was “reasonably likely” that foreign adversaries gained access to Secretary Clinton’s private e-mail account by saying instead that it was “possible.” And they removed a reference to the fact that she engaged in “an email exchange with the President [Obama] while Secretary Clinton was on the territory of such an adversary.”  It is important to note the FBI officials who were involved in the editing process: Andrew McCabe, James Baker, Bill Priestap, Peter Strzok and Jonathan Moffa.  This was the same cast of characters that soon after initiated the investigation targeting candidate Donald Trump and his campaign.

Soon after the election, President-elect Trump made it clear that he had no intention of pursuing further investigation of Clinton.  Since my committee had already issued an interim report on the Clinton email scandal, and she had been held politically accountable by losing the election, I felt there was no longer any need for our investigation to continue.  Other than documents we released for transparency and the interim report, we never held a hearing or publicly interviewed witnesses.   As far as I was concerned, the case was closed.   Little did I know that others were only beginning their investigations and sabotage. 

On Jan. 10, 2017, CNN reported that President-elect Trump had been briefed by Comey about salacious and unverified allegations compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.  These allegations had been shopped to multiple news outlets, who had declined to publish them.  But as soon as CNN broke the story about the director of the FBI briefing the president-elect about them, Buzzfeed decided it had a sufficient news hook to justify publishing what became known as “the Steele dossier.”

On Jan. 11, 2017, Ken Vogel published an article in Politico that described a Democratic National Committee (DNC) operative working with Ukrainian officials to conduct opposition research in 2016 on then-candidate Trump and his campaign.  The article was largely ignored by the mainstream media, which was being fed an unprecedented number of leaks and a narrative that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Trump — a narrative that eventually morphed into the claim that the Trump campaign “colluded” with Russia. 

The number of news stories based on leaks from “well placed” individuals inside government caught my attention, and I asked my staff to do an analysis based on public reporting comparing leaks in the early days of previous administrations. The results were revealing.  On July 2, 2017, we released a report identifying 125 leaks in the first 126 days of the Trump administration. Many of these leaks helped fuel the false Trump-Russia collusion narrative.  As FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok infamously described it at the time, “Our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried and political, they’re kicking in to overdrive.” 

The Trump-Russian collusion narrative had taken on a life of its own.  Gen. Michael Flynn had resigned as national security adviser, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from any investigation involving Russia and the Trump campaign, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would eventually appoint Robert Mueller as a special counsel to lead an investigation into the allegations of Russian interference and collusion. 

The combination of the Mueller special counsel investigation and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to task the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence with investigating these matters effectively shut down my committee’s access to relevant documents and key witnesses.  My committee was sidelined, and our investigation was essentially put on hold.

On July 20, 2017, then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Grassley sent an oversight letter to Rosenstein in reaction to the Vogel Politico article.  As additional information became public regarding possible corruption within the FBI’s investigation, my committee reinitiated its oversight efforts, sending multiple requests for information and documents to the FBI and the Department of Justice.  In January, 2018, those oversight efforts resulted in us obtaining, and making public, the vast majority of the highly revealing and informative text messages between Strzok and fellow FBI agent Lisa Page.

In early 2019, to help move both committees’ oversight forward, Senator Grassley, who by then had become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and I decided to combine efforts.  Between February 2019 and July 2020, we issued a series of oversight letters to numerous individuals, organizations, departments and agencies focusing on reported foreign influence in the 2016 election and the corrupt use of FBI investigations to sabotage the Trump administration.  Although we have received some records in response to those requests, the response time has been extremely slow and the information has been woefully incomplete. 

Some of the slow response time and incomplete production of records can be legitimately attributed to classification issues and reviews.  But I suspect there are other, more nefarious explanations.  I don’t have polling data, but I doubt anyone could seriously dispute that a majority (probably a large majority) of career bureaucrats within federal agencies voted for Clinton and not Trump. 

It was highly unusual, and a serious threat to national security, when detailed descriptions of President Trump’s phone conversations with the prime minister of Australia and the president of Mexico were leaked to the press only two weeks into his administration.  My committee’s report on leaks showed that 62 of the 125 leaks in the first 126 days of the Trump administration could affect national security.  That compares to eight and nine such leaks in the corresponding time periods of the Obama and Bush administrations, respectively.  Perhaps Sen. Chuck Schumer was right when he presciently warned Trump before his inauguration, “You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”  Senator Grassley and I are currently learning exactly how right Senator Schumer was.

Leaks of this nature are proof that individuals within the administration, the departments and agencies, have engaged in activities that seek to undermine the president’s policies.  The unresolved questions surrounding the impeachment whistleblower complaint provide further evidence of this reality. 

It is not hard to imagine that individuals who would affirmatively take action to sabotage the president’s policies would also frustrate our attempts to obtain information that could shed a negative light on a previous or future president more to their liking — especially if they themselves had been involved in actions we now are investigating.  Some may be high-level government officials who are still in a position to know what evidence exists, and have every incentive to frustrate our attempts to obtain it.  Regardless of the cause, the slow-walking of producing documents for our investigation delayed our efforts and has prompted me to begin issuing subpoenas.    

In August 2019, a whistleblower initiated a complaint with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) and the Intelligence Community Inspector General.  The cooperation between HPSCI and the whistleblower remains murky, particularly in light of HPSCI Chairman Adam Schiff’s initial denial that his committee had contact with the whistleblower prior to the filing of the complaint — a statement Schiff later admitted was false.  We do know from public reporting that there were connections between the whistleblower, an impeachment witness, and their former colleagues who “coincidentally” left the executive branch and joined HPSCI staff around the time the whistleblower complaint was filed.  Unfortunately, those connections, and any effect they might have had on the filing or pursuit of the complaint, have never been adequately explored.  

My personal knowledge of the events involving Ukraine and the allegations that led to impeachment were detailed in my Nov. 18, 2019, 10-page letter to HPSCI Ranking Member Devin Nunes and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan.  While the Democrats’ narrative of the president’s wrongdoing consumed the media’s attention, the public grew increasingly curious about the facts and circumstances surrounding former Vice President Biden’s Ukraine responsibilities and the very obvious conflict of interest posed by his son, Hunter Biden, serving as a member of the board of Burisma — a Ukrainian gas company owned by an individual who is generally viewed as highly corrupt.  Because Chairman Grassley and I were already looking into allegations involving a Democratic National Committee operative and certain Ukrainian individuals, we were not going to turn a blind eye to this. 

We didn’t target Joe and Hunter Biden for investigation; their previous actions had put them in the middle of it.

Many in the media, in an ongoing attempt to provide cover for former Vice President Biden, continue to repeat the mantra that there is “no evidence of wrongdoing or illegal activity” related to Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board.  I could not disagree more.  A brief summary of the timeline of events in Ukraine will support my assessment.

Ukraine gained its independence with the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991.  Three years later, in December 1994, Ukraine, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, in which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for assurances against the threat or use of force against its territorial integrity or political independence.

Unfortunately, shedding the legacy of Soviet totalitarianism and corruption is not an easy task.  In late 2004 and early 2005, in what became known as the Orange Revolution, large protests over widespread election fraud and voter intimidation led to the overturning of the Ukrainian presidential election. Roughly 10 years later, a series of protests led by a coalition of pro-western and anti-corruption advocates resulted in what is called the Revolution of Dignity.   On Feb. 22, 2014, Ukraine’s president, Victor Yanukovych, widely viewed as the puppet of Russian President Vladimir Putin, abdicated his office by fleeing to Russia.

This is where the Ukrainian story of Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter, begins.  Following the Revolution of Dignity, U.S. foreign policy was focused on support for the pro-western, anti-corruption, and pro-democracy efforts in Ukraine.  Unfortunately, Putin had a much different plan.  Congress and the Obama administration were acutely aware of Putin’s displeasure and his penchant for destabilizing governments not to his liking.  As a result, U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine focused on two main objectives: 1) security and economic assistance, and 2) advocacy for and support of anti-corruption, judicial, and other reforms.

On April 16, 2014, Vice President Biden met with his son’s business partner, Devon Archer, at the White House.  Five days later, Vice President Biden visited Ukraine, and the media described him as the “public face of the administration’s handling of Ukraine.”  The next day, April 22,  Archer joined the board of Burisma.  Six days later, British officials seized $23 million from the London bank accounts of Burisma’s owner, Mykoloa Zlochevsky.  Fifteen days later on May 13, Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma, with public reports showing Hunter and his firm being paid $50,000 to $166,000 per month (totaling more than $3 million over five years) for his and Archer’s board participation. 

All of this initial activity in Ukraine involving the Bidens, Hunter’s business partner, and a corrupt oligarch and his Ukrainian gas company occurred over a period of less than a month, and within three months of the Revolution of Dignity — a revolution against corruption in Ukraine.  Following that revolution, Ukrainian political figures were desperate for U.S. support.  Zlochevsky would have made sure relevant Ukrainian officials were well aware of Hunter’s appointment to Burisma’s board.  Isn’t it obvious what message Hunter’s position on Burisma’s board sent to Ukrainian officials?  The answer: If you want U.S. support, don’t touch Burisma.  It also raised a host of questions, including:

1)     How could former Vice President Biden look any Ukrainian official (or any other world leader) in the face and demand action to fight corruption? 

2)     Did this glaring conflict of interest affect the work and efforts of other U.S. officials who worked on anti-corruption measures?

3)     Did Burisma, its owner, or representatives receive special access to, or treatment from, U.S. agencies or officials because of Hunter Biden’s role on the board of directors?

4)     Was there anything corrupt or unethical about the financial transactions between Hunter Biden and Burisma?

5)     How did State Department officials responsible for promoting anti-corruption measures in Ukraine react to Hunter Biden joining Burisma’s board of directors?

6)     Exactly when, and for what reasons, did the U.S. government decide to condition a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine on the termination of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin?

7)     What was the reaction within the Obama administration when the replacement prosecutor general, Yuri Lutsenko, closed the case investigation of Burisma and its owner?  Did Vice President Biden and other U.S. government officials believe that justice had been served and their anti-corruption efforts were successful? 

In addition, the appearance of family profiteering off of Vice President Biden’s official responsibilities is not unique to the circumstances involving Ukraine and Burisma.   Public reporting has also shown Hunter Biden following his father into China and coincidentally landing lucrative business deals and investments there. Additionally, the former vice president’s brothers and sister-in-law, Frank, James and Sara Biden, also are reported to have benefited financially from his work as well.  We have not had the resources to devote investigatory time to these other allegations, but I point them out to underscore that Ukraine and Burisma seem more of a pattern of conduct than an aberration.  Given all this public information, the press should be asking, and former Vice President Biden should be answering, a long list of questions:

1)     Why did you meet with Devon Archer at the White House on April 16, 2014?   What was discussed? Did you discuss anything related to Ukraine, Hunter Biden, or Burisma?

2)     Were you aware that Devon Archer joined the board of Burisma six days later?

3)     Were you aware that Burisma’s owner, Mykoloa Zlochevsky, was generally viewed as a corrupt oligarch and that his London bank account containing $23 million had been seized by British officials only 15 days before Hunter Biden joined the board of a company he owned?

4)     Was Hunter Biden aware that British officials had seized Zlochevsky’s bank account?

5)     When did you first become aware of Zlochevsky’s and Burisma’s reputations for corruption?

6)     Do you believe Zlochevsky and Burisma are corrupt?

7)     Were you aware in April 2014 that Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma?

8)     When did you first become aware that Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma?

9)     When did you first become aware of how much Hunter Biden was being compensated by Burisma?

10) Why do you believe Burisma recruited and paid Archer and your son to be on its board?

11) What skills or knowledge do you believe Hunter Biden possesses that qualified him to be on Burisma’s board and receive $50,000 to $166,000 per month for his and his partner’s services?

12) What exactly had Shokin done that caused you to threaten to withhold $1 billion in desperately needed aid from Ukraine if President Poroshenko didn’t fire him?

13) What do you know about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China?

14) What do you know about financial benefits your brothers and sister-in-law have obtained because of their relationship to you?

Democrats and many in the media have mainly focused their criticism of our investigation on the Biden component of our oversight.  This is understandable in light of their almost maniacal devotion to ending the Trump presidency.  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.  As Chairman Grassley and I have pointed out in rebuttals to their unfounded accusations, it is Democrats who have sought out and disseminated Russian disinformation.  It was the Democratic National Committee, together with cutouts for the Clinton campaign, that paid for and helped peddle the Steele dossier.  And now, once again, Democrats are falsely accusing Chairman Grassley and me of the very behavior they themselves are engaging in. 

They have introduced, and made public, Russian disinformation into our investigatory record; we have not. 

In December 2019, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz issued a 478-page report on his investigation of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant abuse.  For anyone who is willing to take the time, the report is a devastating account of investigative and prosecutorial negligence, misconduct, and abuse of the FISA court process by FBI and Department of Justice officials. Some of the most disturbing revelations include an FBI attorney doctoring and using an email to mislead the FISA court, ignoring the exculpatory evidence obtained during surreptitious recordings of campaign officials, deciding not to provide a defensive briefing to the Trump campaign, planting an FBI investigator in an intelligence briefing for candidate Trump, and withholding known and significant credibility problems related to the Steele dossier.

Shortly after the publication of Horowitz’s FISA report, a member of my staff was reviewing classified sections of it when he discovered four footnotes that contradicted statements by FBI officials in the unclassified section of the report.  When I reviewed these footnotes, I immediately decided that the public had the right to see them, and we began the process to get them declassified.  Attorney General William Barr and then-Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell both deserve much credit for making this information available to the public. 

The significance of the footnotes is hard to overstate, although many in the media simply shrugged them off.  Bill Priestap, the deputy FBI director for counterintelligence who was “ultimately responsible” for Crossfire Hurricane, had told IG investigators that the FBI “didn’t have any indication whatsoever” that Steele’s dossier was part of a Russian disinformation campaign.  However, the footnotes revealed that the FBI received intelligence reporting between October 2016 and February 2017 showing that parts of the Steele dossier were, in fact, part of a Russian disinformation campaign.  This was critical exculpatory evidence that undermined the very premise of the investigation. 

But as the FBI had done since the beginning of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, rather than using exculpatory information to end their investigation, the FBI ramped it up.  Confidential human sources became FISA wiretaps; top FBI officials argued for inclusion of the unverified and salacious Steele dossier to be included in the body of the Obama administration’s Intelligence Community Assessment, and finally, the FBI investigation ballooned into a special counsel investigation.  As a result, the Trump administration was tormented for over two years by an aggressive investigation and media speculation, all based on a false narrative.  This has taken a tremendous toll on our country.   

Had the public known what the FBI knew at that time about its Trump-Russia inquiry, it’s hard to imagine public support for continuing the investigation, much less the appointment of a special counsel four months later.  Investigations into Russian hacking, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen could have — and should have — continued using normal FBI and Department of Justice procedures.  But with a sufficiently informed public, and an FBI and Department of Justice that rigorously followed their own procedures, this national political nightmare could have been avoided. 

Which raises the question: Why wasn’t the public properly informed?  Some of the reasons are now obvious; some are speculative.  What is obvious is that certain FBI and Justice officials were not truthful.  Also, as this committee found, leaks during the first four months of the Trump administration helped fuel the false narrative of Trump campaign collusion with Russia.  Many in the media were either duped by, or complicit in, using those leaks to perpetuate that false narrative. 

Much evidence of corruption by Obama administration officials has already been made public, but only a mere portion of it is described above.  The role of other Obama administration officials and members of the intelligence community is murky — but legitimate suspicions and questions remain and must be answered.  These include:

1)     Why were so many top level Obama administration officials, including Vice President Biden, unmasking Trump campaign and transition officials?  Some of the unmasking  occurred only 10 days before President Trump’s inauguration?

2)     Did the FBI’s use of campaign and transition briefings for investigative purposes, as well as its efforts to access presidential transition records, violate the law or otherwise undermine faith in the peaceful transfer of power?

3)     What other intelligence reporting did the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane team ignore?

4)     Did any of these abuses precede the formal opening of Crossfire Hurricane? 

5)     And of course, the overarching question: Who knew what, and when did they know it?

On July 20, 2020, reports began surfacing falsely accusing Senator Grassley and me of accepting Russian disinformation in the course of our investigations.   The implication was that we were being duped into disseminating derogatory information on former Vice President Biden because Russia does not want to see him become president.  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Chairman Schiff, Minority Leader Schumer and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chair Mark Warner wrote a letter, parroting a letter our ranking members, Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Gary Peters, had written to us asking for a classified briefing on these developments.  

The only problem with their overblown handwringing is that they all knew full well that we have been briefed repeatedly, and we had already told them that we had NOT received the alleged “Russian disinformation.”   The very transparent goal of their own disinformation campaign and feigned concern is to attack our character in order to marginalize the eventual findings of our investigation.   They are running the same play, out the same playbook they have been using for the last three and a half years. 

What I have provided above is an accurate history, summary and rationale of our investigatory efforts.  Everything detailed above is already in the public realm.   None of it is Russian disinformation.  But it is a stunning description of wrongdoing and corruption that the public has every right to know.

As our investigation continues, more will be uncovered and revealed.  As always, almost all of the documents we are seeking and will make public are from U.S. sources.   Everything will be carefully verified for accuracy and veracity. 

Chairman Grassley and I will not be deterred by the false accusations despicably being made by individuals with strong political biases and motivations.  Our investigation has been, and will continue to be, undertaken with the greatest integrity and transparency.  We intend to determine and reveal the truth.

 

An addendum:

On the morning of Saturday, Aug. 8, I noticed an opinion piece in the Washington Post submitted by Sen. Richard Blumenthal.   It was headlined: “The threat to U.S. elections is real, and frightening.  The public has a right to know.”  In addition to my curiosity being peaked by the hyperbolic headline, I was curious to read what “stunning revelations” Senator Blumenthal might provide.  

What I found corroborated what I have described above about a coordinated effort to attack me to pre-emptively marginalize the findings of our investigations.  This paragraph in particular needs to be responded to:

“On Wednesday, The Post reported that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), 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. Johnson’s actions are of such concern to the CIA, according to news reports, that the agency has refused to brief him. Think of it: Congress may become a forum for debunked conspiracy theories peddled by Kremlin proxies.”

Let me first refute the specific false charges. 

Senator Blumenthal claimed my committee is “using documents provided to the senator by the son of a former KGB officer.” This is false. Not only have we have repeatedly and publicly denied it, no one has presented evidence to the contrary — nor can they, because there is none.

On July 1, the Washington Post reported false allegations that a Ukrainian named Oleksandr Onyshchenko provided our committee with information.  Our Democratic colleagues asked that day if it was true, and we quickly and unequivocally denied it.  On July 23, Politico reported that Andrii Derkach provided our committee with information.  We immediately and unequivocally denied that.  My press team has shared these denials with many reporters.  And yet, for nearly a month, these baseless allegations have been repeated.  Saturday morning, they were repeated by Senator Blumenthal.    Why do the press and Democrats continue to ignore these unequivocal denials?  Have they no interest in the truth?

Let me be clear: The investigation by my committee of allegations of conflicts of interest within the Obama administration related to Ukraine policy and of allegations of corruption within the Obama administration affecting the 2016 election is focused on documents and officials from U.S. government agencies and a U.S. Democrat-linked lobbying firm. We have not taken, nor do we possess, the documents from Ukrainians that Democrats keep claiming.

Blumenthal then writes, “Johnson’s actions are of such concern to the CIA, according to news reports, that the agency has refused to brief him.” Not only is this claim false, it is a perfect demonstration of the disinformation technique they are using.  

We have been briefed repeatedly on these issues, but because the briefings did not support their preferred narrative, Democrats haven’t liked what they’ve heard.  Ranking Member Sen. Gary Peters asked me to arrange yet another intelligence briefing, which I requested from the FBI and CIA.  The CIA and FBI responded that they had provided all relevant information. Democrats then moved the goalposts, asking the CIA for yet another briefing on other less relevant questions.  The CIA has not responded, and Democrats have not pursued the matter since May.

In addition, note Senator Blumenthal’s use of the term, “according to news reports.”  This reveals exactly what is happening here.  An “intelligence product” full of false innuendo was produced, classified, and then leaked to the press more than a week before Senator Grassley or I were given access to it.  Many in the media dutifully reported this hot tip. Democrats then used the media reports to repeat, distort, and embellish the false charges.  Sound familiar?

Now I know exactly how President Trump must have felt when he first heard the false reports contained in the “Steele dossier” and allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia.   He knew these narratives were completely false — and now so do we, thanks to the Mueller report — yet they were repeated, distorted, and embellished to create the public demand for that special counsel investigation.

It is neither me, Chairman Grassley, nor our committees that are being used to disseminate Russian disinformation.  Instead, it is Democrats and the media that have been doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s work for him.  Puppet masters in the Kremlin could not be more pleased at the political division and discord that has been driven by the resistance movement against President Trump.    Remember the tweet only 10 days after President Trump’s inauguration from one of the impeachment whistleblower’s attorneys, Mark Zaid: “#coup has started. First of many steps. #rebellion. #impeachment will follow ultimately. #lawyers”

The left is relentless.  They play for keeps, and they don’t let rules or the truth get in their way. 

Now many of the same players that engineered a special counsel and impeachment against President Trump are brazenly teaming up again with a different target in mind: me.   They are using the same tired old canard of Russian interference.   You’d think they could come up with something better than that, but here they are, confident they can pull it off again.   And with a compliant media, why wouldn’t they be confident?

Let me be very clear on another point.  I have no doubt Russia is continuing its efforts to sow discord and destabilize countries and political systems throughout the world, including here in the U.S.  In Congress, I was one of the first to recognize Russia’s menacing activities by holding three hearings related to Russian disinformation and destabilization campaigns as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Europe subcommittee back in 2015.  This is how the former Soviet Union behaved, and it should surprise no one that the Russian Federation under the leadership of Putin would engage in the exact same type of behavior.  What is surprising is that anyone would view this as some breakthrough revelation.  I certainly do not condone it, nor do I lack an understanding of the type of threat this poses to our democracy.   As chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, I am well aware of the significant efforts the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have undertaken to safeguard our elections.  Congress has also appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars and provided grants to the states to counter these threats.

But I also try to put the threat of Russian election interference in proper perspective, to realize we face far greater threats as a nation, and to completely reject Democrats’ successful and repeated efforts at weaponizing persistent Russian meddling to gain political advantage and destroy individual reputations.

The only way I can counter these personal political attacks is to tell the truth and continue to conduct my committee’s investigations with the utmost integrity and transparency.  Let me repeat.  We will not be deterred by these coordinated and despicably false attacks.   We intend to uncover the truth and make it public. 

Sincerely,

Ron Johnson

Chairman

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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?”

###

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.