U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s claim that fraud undoubtedly occurred in last month’s election spurred the panel’s ranking Dem member to accuse the Oshkosh Republican of peddling destructive rhetoric.
Johnson during yesterday’s Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing investigating election “irregularities” pointed to testimony from a pair of Trump campaign attorneys in alleging voter fraud. But he conceded “the conclusion has collectively been reached” by a combination of courts, election officials and the Electoral College that it was not widespread enough to alter President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
“There was fraud in this election — I don’t have any doubt about that, there was fraud,” Johnson said. “We just don’t know the extent, and we don’t know what the remedy would be when identified.”
Those comments drew a fierce response from U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, the Michigan Dem who serves as the panel’s ranking member. He labeled the hearing as “a destructive exercise that has no place in the United States Senate.”
“The president and many of his supporters are unfortunately continuing their efforts to undermine the will of the people, disenfranchise voters and sow the seeds of mistrust and discontent to further their partisan desire for power,” Peters said in an opening statement. “Whether intended or not this hearing gives a platform to conspiracy theories and lies.”
Johnson and Peters at one point engaged in a heated exchange with Johnson accusing Peters of lying repeatedly and spreading Russian disinformation and the Dem firing back the hearing was “not about airing your grievances.”
“I don’t know what rabbit hole you’re running down. … This is terrible, what you’re doing to this committee,” Peters said as the pair bickered and Johnson banged his gavel.
The hearing also drew President Trump’s eyes as he tweeted urging followers to tune in and praising Johnson for “doing an excellent job.”
The spat came during what the Oshkosh Republican said would be his last hearing as committee chair as he faces the Senate Republican Conference’s term limit of six years leading a panel. Johnson is up for reelection in 2022.
The hearing featured testimony from Chris Krebs, the Trump administration’s former top election security official who was fired after tweeting that claims of manipulated voting machines were either “unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent.”
Krebs, the ousted director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said he has yet to see any irregularities on the cybersecurity front and referenced a statement last week from outgoing Attorney General William Barr indicating the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud.
“I think that continued assault on democracy and the outcome of this election that only serves to undermine confidence in the process is ultimately … corrosive to the institutions that support elections,” Krebs said. “The trick about elections is that you’re not so much trying to convince the winner they won — it’s the loser that they lost and you need willing participants on both sides — and I think we’ve got to get back to that point.”
Among those testifying was Jim Troupis, a former Dane County judge who has represented the Trump campaign in its unsuccessful efforts to overturn Wisconsin’s election results in both state circuit court and in the state Supreme Court.
Troupis largely rehashed the arguments he presented in court, arguing more than 200,000 votes from Dane and Milwaukee counties should not have been counted because of various alleged election administration errors involving absentee ballots.
“That, in our view, is a taint on our election in Wisconsin,” he said.
But the allegations Troupis raised were rejected in circuit court by Racine County reserve Judge Stephen Simanek, who last week ruled “the rules and guidelines applied in each of the disputed areas are reasonable and a correct interpretation of the underlying early absentee voting laws.”
A split state Supreme Court on Monday also rejected the Trump campaign’s bid to throw out votes in Dane and Milwaukee counties. A 4-3 majority made up of the court’s three liberal justices and conservative Brian Hagedorn found the challenge to indefinitely confined voters’ ballots was “meritless on its face” while the campaign waited too long to challenge three other categories of disputed ballots.
Still, Johnson suggested after Troupis’ testimony the contested ballots “shouldn’t have been put in the ballot pool.”
“And of course, the remedy is not particularly pleasing,” Johnson said, suggesting the severity of the remedy was a reason the court ruled the way it did.
See the hearing here.