MILWAUKEE — Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., acknowledged Tuesday that he exchanged text messages with one of Donald Trump’s attorneys before and after Johnson’s staff tried to deliver a package to then-Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6, 2021.
He added that the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack "smeared" him because it didn't publicize all the text messages between his and Pence's aides.
Johnson, in response to questions from NBC News, said “the entire episode lasted about an hour,” referring to his ties to a fake electors scheme he said he knew nothing about. He also said he didn’t know the contents of the package he said the attorney wanted to be delivered.
“You can’t even call it participation. I wrote a couple texts,” Johnson said.
Johnson has previously distanced himself from the scheme, telling WISN-TV of Milwaukee in August: “My involvement in that attempt to deliver spanned the course of a couple seconds.”
Johnson made the comments after he spoke to the Rotary Club of Milwaukee, where he was asked several questions about the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Johnson is locked in a tight re-election fight with Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
Johnson defended his previous remarks about the attack’s being mostly peaceful, saying he said the same of Black Lives Matters protests in 2020. Johnson said that in each case, he condemned violence if it grew out of those protests.
“To call what happened on Jan. 6 an ‘armed insurrection,’ I just think it’s inaccurate,” he said. “I’m sorry — that’s not what an armed insurrection would look like.”
Johnson argued that few weapons were confiscated but that protesters “did teach us how you can use a flag pole”
Of the electors scheme, Johnson said he communicated with Jim Troupis, a Wisconsin-based attorney who led legal efforts for Donald Trump in a recount of the state's 2020 results.
“What would you do if you got a text from the attorney for the president of the United States?” Johnson said. “You respond to it.
“I got a text from the president’s lawyer asking if we could deliver something to the vice president and if I could have a staff member handle it,” Johnson said. Asked whether he knew what it was he was being asked to deliver, he said: “No. I had no idea.”
Johnson said he turned it over to his chief of staff, who was new at the time. “Next thing I know he’s letting me know the vice president’s not accepting anything, so I just texted back ‘no, we’re not delivering it,’ end of story. Nothing happened. I had no idea there were even an alternate slate of electors.”
Johnson said the House Jan. 6 committee didn't publicize all of the texts between Pence and his aides, which he said indicated that Pence was expecting the package through the mail.
According to texts Johnson has previously made public, the Pence aide also said the vice president shouldn't receive any mail that hadn't been screened. He also referred to comments to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who said Johnson's involvement wasn't a "priority."
The Jan. 6 committee had no comment Tuesday on Johnson's remarks.
The fake elector scheme was an attempt by Republicans in seven battleground states Joe Biden won in 2020 — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — to offer phony slates of 84 Republicans with the idea of asking Pence to accept them as legitimate electors rather than recognize that Biden had rightfully won those states.
NBC News recently reported that the electors, many of whom are under investigation, are playing an integral role in the coming midterm elections, in many cases making up the GOP hierarchies in critical battleground states.