Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sen. Ron Johnson says he is troubled by the leak, not the president’s call.

- Craig Gilbert

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 confirms 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 efforts 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.”


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