Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sen. Ron Johnson says he is troubled by the leak, not the president’s call.
WASHINGTON - Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said Thursday that while President Donald Trump’s critics are “putting the worst possible construction” on the president’s phone call to the leader of Ukraine and impugning “all kinds of horrible motives to that,” he is not.
Johnson, who chairs the Senate committee on homeland security and has traveled to Ukraine numerous times, said he did not believe that military aid to Ukraine was withheld by the president to pressure that country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.
“I’ve been involved in (Ukraine). I’ve heard directly from (Zelensky), had direct contact with the president. I never got any sense at all there was any kind of pressure (on Zelensky). I just put the best construction on the call. I know how President (Trump) talks. That’s who he is,” said Johnson, who traveled to Ukraine in early September and met with Zelensky.
Johnson said he pushed Trump to release the Ukraine aid package but said he believed the president had legitimate concerns in delaying the aid.
Johnson said he “is not especially concerned right now” about the overall nature of the conversation between Trump and Zelensky, which has set off an uproar in Washington, where the House is preparing an impeachment inquiry.
Asked if he was troubled that — even absent a quid pro quo — the president would ask a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent of his, Johnson said: “Almost everybody who is saying that is just troubled that Donald Trump is president.”
Johnson said what deeply concerned him was that the whistleblower complaint about the call was leaked, pushing it out into the public domain. He said the release of a president’s conversation with a foreign leader would damage the ability of future presidents to conduct foreign policy.
“We never should even have known about this. The world would be a better place had we never known about this” and had it been handled within “normal channels” by the executive branch and the intelligence committees, said Johnson, who is also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Johnson said he supported protections for whistleblowers.
“I’m a big supporter of whistleblower protection. Who should not be protected is whoever leaked this. If this whistleblower leaked this, then (that person) does not deserve (whistleblower) protections,” Johnson said.
Republicans in Congress by and large have stood by Trump in the controversy, with only a handful criticizing his request of Zelensky that he investigate Joe Biden and his son.
Most Democrats now support an impeachment inquiry.
Wisconsin’s Democratic Senator, Tammy Baldwin, voiced her support this week for an impeachment inquiry.
Baldwin said on Twitter Thursday: “The White House call memo confirms what was revealed today in the whistle blower complaint — President Trump solicited interference from Ukraine in our 2020 election. This is a serious abuse of power that risks our national security and weakens efforts to protect our democracy.”
Asked how he would approach the issue if the Democratic-controlled House ultimately impeaches Trump and sends the matter to GOP-controlled Senate, Johnson said: “I will approach it very seriously. I will respect the other house of Congress. If they vote articles of impeachment, we’ll take it up in the Senate. I will listen to the case very respectfully. I will not prejudge anything.”