Johnson was responding to an attack by his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, that the senator was once warned by the FBI that the Kremlin was trying to turn him into a “Russian asset.”
Johnson was informed at an FBI briefing in 2020 that he was the target of Russian disinformation as part of a campaign to make him useful to the Kremlin, the senator confirmed to The Washington Post last year.
Barnes warned in his face-off Thursday with Johnson, in the second of two televised debates in Milwaukee, “We cannot trust Sen. Johnson to protect democracy abroad because we can’t even trust Sen. Johnson to protect democracy here at home.”
Johnson fired back at Barnes’ “wild charge.” His claim that the “FBI set me up with a corrupt briefing and then leaked that to smear me” brought laughter from the debate audience.
Johnson accused the FBI of being tainted by corruption, which he said he has been “trying to uncover and expose” (a point met with more audience laughter).
His accusation of a setup is one of a litany of wild claims Johnson has made.
After the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, Johnson in a radio interview defended the attackers as “peaceful,” calling them “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, [who] would never do anything to break the law.” He said he would have been “concerned,” however, had the rioters been Black Lives Matter protesters instead of a mob incited by then-President Donald Trump.
He also claimed recently that he was involved in trying to overthrow the 2020 presidential vote for only “seconds” last year and really had no clear idea what was going on. He said he tried to submit a list of fake electors to then-Vice President Mike Pence to deny Joe Biden his presidential victory. But Pence’s chief of staff refused to accept it.
In a Fox Business News interview last month, Johnson said he “condoned” white supremacy, then quickly changed the word to “condemned” in what one critic blasted as the “all-time Freudian slip.”
Johnson is widely regarded as the most vulnerable senator in the upcoming election, but he has recently been inching ahead in polls.