Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) tried to give false election documents to then-Vice President Mike Pence just before he certified the results of the 2020 presidential election, according to text messages that congressional investigators released during a Tuesday hearing.
Johnson’s chief of staff, Sean Riley, contacted Pence staffer Chris Hodgson to say the senator wanted “to hand something” to Pence. When Hodgson asked what it was, Riley responded: “Alternate slate of electors for [Michigan] and [Wisconsin] because archivist didn’t receive them.”
“Do not give that to him,” Hodgson responded.
As then-President Donald Trump sought to deny Joe Biden’s election win, his team asked supporters to falsely claim that they were the electors who represented the states’ voters ― and to sign phony slates purportedly delivering Electoral College votes to Trump. The strategy sought to prevent Pence’s certification of the real Electoral College result on Jan. 6, 2021.
During its fourth public hearing, the House committee investigating Trump supporters’ attack on the U.S. Capitol that day unveiled the text messages between Riley and Hodgson and an additional message from a top Republican official.
In a Jan. 4 text, Wisconsin Republican Party Executive Director Mark Jefferson wrote: “Freaking trump idiots want someone to fly original elector papers to the senate President.”
The revelation that Johnson tried to give Pence false ballots creates a clear link between the senator and the campaign to overturn the 2020 election. And it underscores the range of public and private ways that prominent Republicans supported Trump’s bid to defy voters and hold on to power while fueling the outrage that drove the assault on the Capitol.
Johnson was not one of the 139 Republican lawmakers who voted to uphold Trump’s election lies. He did, however, host a December 2020 hearing during which Trump allies spent hours promoting conspiracy theories about the previous month’s election.
Soon after the news broke, Johnson’s spokesperson Alexa Henning tweeted, “The senator had no involvement in the creation of an alternate slate of electors and had no foreknowledge that it was going to be delivered to our office.”
“The Vice President’s office said not to give it to him and we did not. There was no further action taken. End of story,” Henning continued. The senator later told reporters that he knew on the morning of Jan. 6 that “somebody” delivered the false ballots to his office but denied that he was trying to push the fake pro-Trump electors.
“I do not know [the source]. I have no idea,” Johnson said. “This was a staff-to-staff exchange, and I was basically unaware of it. The chief of staff contacted the vice president’s staff and said, ‘Do you want this?’ They said no, and we didn’t deliver it and that’s the end of the story.”
Johnson is currently running for reelection in Wisconsin.
One of his potential rivals, Democratic hopeful Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, issued a statement about Johnson’s actions on Tuesday afternoon.
“Ron Johnson actively tried to undermine this democracy,” Barnes said. “Once again, Ron Johnson has proven he’s a danger to our country and our fundamental rights. I’m calling for him to resign immediately.”
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred to Tuesday’s hearing as the Jan. 6 committee’s third public hearing; it was the fourth.