The Jan. 6 Committee in a recent release tried to discredit Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) by unveiling text messages purportedly showing that the Wisconsin Republican was part of a multifaceted conspiracy to hand a false electoral slate for Michigan and Wisconsin to Vice President Mike Pence.
Specifically, the Jan. 6 panel suggested that Johnson’s chief of staff, in communication with a top Pence aide, had plotted to hand Pence an alternate slate of electors for President Donald Trump to be read in Congress on Jan. 6, when Congress convened to certify the reported results of the 2020 election.
However, this narrative does not align with the facts.
After the story hit headlines, Johnson released the full text messages, showing that the Jan. 6 panel, as it has done in the past, had been selective about which text messages it revealed.
According to interviews and testimony, the Trump campaign team had undertaken an effort behind the scenes to recruit alternative electors who would switch their vote from Biden to Trump amid ongoing contentions over election fraud.
On Jan. 6, a Trump campaign official reached out to Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) to ask him to relay one such alternative slate of electors for the states of Michigan and Wisconsin to Pence just hours before the certification of the results was set to happen.
Kelly reached out to James Troupis, a Pennsylvania lawyer, to relay the request.
The Text Messages
At 11:36 a.m. on Jan. 6, 2021, Troupis texted Johnson: “Need to get a document on Wisconsin electors to you [to hand to] the VP immediately. Is there a staff person I can talk to immediately. Thanks, Jim T.”
Johnson, who was unclear about what was going on, asked his chief of staff, Sean Riley, to untangle the situation.
Riley proceeded to reach out to Chris Hodgson, a top Pence aide.
“Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS,” Riley wrote in a text to Hodgson.
“What is it?” Hodgson replied.
“Alternate slate of electors for MI and WI because archivists didn’t receive them,” Riley explained.
“Do not give that to him,” Hodgson replied.
In the Jan. 6 panel’s public release, that’s where the story ended, giving the impression that Johnson had had a much larger and more conspiratorial role in the situation.
However, additional texts released by Johnson and his team show that Riley quickly relented and acceded to Hodgson’s dictate not to hand the electors to Pence.
“[Pence is] about to walk over to preside over the joint session,” Hodgson wrote to Riley, saying that Pence already knew about the alternate slate. “[The alternate electoral votes] were supposed to come in through the mail.”
“I can do that [have the slate mailed for archival purposes],” Riley said, indicating that he was standing down. “Anything else?”
“The VP absolutely should not receive any mail that hasn’t been screened,” Hodgson said.
“Understood. Johnson understands,” Riley replied.
Johnson proceeded to text Troupis back to inform him of what had been learned from Hodgson. This second text to Troupis came at 12:46 p.m., just an hour and ten minutes after the affair began.
“We have been informed the VP cannot accept any unsealed mail and I cannot hand it to him,” Johnson said.
Misrepresentations, Allegations of Bias
Thus, Johnson’s role in the events described was greatly magnified by the Jan. 6 panel, which has already faced scrutiny from Republicans for alleged partisan bias.
This bias is due in part to the lack of any real opposition voices on the panel.
After the committee was formed in a mostly party-line vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) attempted to appoint Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to serve on the panel as ranking member.
Despite an uninterrupted tradition spanning over 200 years, whereby the minority leader was permitted to choose his party’s representatives on congressional committees, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) refused the request.
Instead, she unilaterally overruled McCarthy, placing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.)—an outspoken Trump critic who voted for his impeachment in the wake of the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally—in charge of the GOP side of the panel. Pelosi also appointed Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), another Trump critic who voted for his impeachment, on the committee, and these two are the only Republican voices that sit on the panel.
Under normal conditions, the minority party would have had the opportunity to present its own evidence, and likely would have produced the evidence absolving Johnson of any culpability. But given the lack of opposition voices on the panel, this did not happen.
During its first public hearing, the Jan. 6 panel displayed no less than four edited texts or tweets as evidence to bolster its claims that Jan. 6 constituted an “insurrection” orchestrated in a behind-the-scenes plot by Trump and his allies.
On June 28, the panel called a last-minute hearing to listen to testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
During her testimony, Hutchinson claimed that Trump had lunged at a Secret Service agent in anger and tried to take control of the wheel of the White House limousine after being denied a request to attend the march on the Capitol. She also claimed that Trump had thrown a plate against a wall in anger after then-Attorney General Bill Barr said that there had been no widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Trump quickly denied the allegations, and two Secret Service agents have reportedly said that they would testify under oath that Hutchinson lied.