Sen. John­son slams whistle­blower

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Felicia Son­mez and Dou­glas MacMillan

Wisconsin Repub­li­can says whistle­blower’s sources “ex­posed things that didn’t need to be ex­posed.”

Sen. Ron John­son, RWis., said Sunday that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials who pro­vided in­for­ma­tion to the anony­mous whistle­blower about the pres­i­dent’s ef­forts to pres­sure Ukraine “ex­posed things that didn’t need to be ex­posed.”

“This would have been far bet­ter off if we would’ve just taken care of this behind the scenes,” John­son said in an in­ter­view on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” “We have two branches of gov­ern­ment. Most peo­ple, most peo­ple wanted to sup­port Ukraine. We were try­ing to con­vince Pres­i­dent Trump.”

John­son’s com­ments come days after the first public hear­ings in the im­peach­ment in­quiry. Democrats are seek­ing to prove that Trump lever­aged mil­i­tary as­sis­tance and an Oval Of­fice meet­ing in ex­change for in­ves­ti­ga­tions into for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and a de­bunked the­ory con­cern­ing pur­ported Ukrainian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The in­ter­view also comes amid in­ten­si­fy­ing scrutiny of the ac­tions of U.S. Am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union Gor­don Sond­land, who is among those ex­pected to tes­tify pub­licly this week.

Ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony re­leased Satur­day, a for­mer White House na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cial told House in­ves­ti­ga­tors that Sond­land was act­ing at Trump’s be­hest and spoke to a top Ukrainian of­fi­cial about ex­chang­ing mil­i­tary aid for po­lit­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions — two el­e­ments at the heart of the im­peach­ment in­quiry.

Repub­li­cans have strug­gled to de­fend Trump’s ac­tions, and John­son on Sunday lamented the “dam­age that’s be­ing done to our en­tire coun­try through this en­tire im­peach­ment process.”

“It’s go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult for fu­ture pres­i­dents to have a can­did con­ver­sa­tion with a world leader, be­cause now we’ve set the prece­dent of leak­ing tran­scripts,” he said, re­fer­ring to the re­lease of rough tran­scripts of Trump’s calls with Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy. “The weak­en­ing of ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege is not good.”

John­son also ar­gued that the whistle­blower’s ac­tions ul­ti­mately have not helped the U.S.-Ukraine re­la­tion­ship.

“And, by the way, those in­di­vid­u­als that leaked this, if their in­ter­est was a stronger re­la­tion­ship with the Ukraine, they didn’t ac­com­plish this,” he said. “Hav­ing this all come out into public has weak­ened that re­la­tion­ship, has ex­posed things that didn’t need to be ex­posed.”

In re­cent weeks, John­son has emerged as the mem­ber of Congress most closely in­volved in the Ukraine saga. The Wisconsin Repub­li­can met in July with a for­mer Ukrainian diplo­mat who has cir­cu­lated un­proven claims that Ukrainian of­fi­cials as­sisted Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

John­son and Sen. Chris Mur­phy, D-Conn., also met with Ze­len­skiy in Septem­ber, at a time when U.S. aid to the coun­try was still be­ing held up.

“This would have been far bet­ter off if we would’ve just taken care of this behind the scenes.” U.S. Sen. Ron John­son, R-Wis.

AM­BER ARNOLD/AP

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