Is Senator Johnson Acting as Putin’s Useful Idiot?

He’s promoting a Russian disinformation campaign to help Trump get reelected.

Senator Ron Johnson is basically using his position as chair of the Homeland Security Committee to do what Trump was impeached for asking Ukraine to do—smear Joe Biden based on his efforts to end corruption in that country during his tenure as Obama’s vice president.

Even Republican Senators Richard Burr and Marco Rubio are warning Johnson that his efforts could aid the disinformation campaign that Moscow is spearheading against Biden. As Ryan Goodman and Asha Rangappa document, Johnson seems to be getting his information from three sources.

There are three channels of Russian disinformation that have apparently affected Sen. Johnson’s Ukraine-related investigations.

Channel 1. Russian-linked Ukrainian operatives communicating directly with Sen. Johnson and his staff.

Channel 2. Russian-linked Ukrainian operatives spreading disinformation via media outlets, which have been picked up and expressly relied upon by Sen. Johnson.

Channel 3. Russian-linked Ukrainian operatives providing information via “Team [Rudy] Giuliani.”

That is bad enough. But then this week, Johnson actually said the quiet parts out loud.

“The more that we expose of the corruption of the transition process between Obama and Trump, the more we expose of the corruption within those agencies, I would think it would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection and certainly be pretty good, I would say, evidence about not voting for Vice President Biden,” Johnson said in a little-noticed Tuesday interview with Minneapolis-based radio hosts Jon Justice and Drew Lee.

In other words, the senator from Wisconsin is engaging in a Russian disinformation campaign, which he admits is designed to damage Biden and help Trump get reelected. Johnson is doing so four years after he joined Biden in demanding that Ukraine “press ahead with urgent reforms to the Prosecutor General’s office and judiciary.”

All of that raises questions about whether Johnson is acting as a “useful idiot” on Vladimir Putin’s behalf. But it is important to keep in mind that the senator isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. After all, this is the guy who turned a joke from Lisa Page into a claim that he had an “informant” who said that there was a “secret society” of FBI agents meeting off site. The inference was that they were plotting to destroy the Trump presidency. He is also the senator who issued a report, wrote an op-ed, and held a hearing to make the unconscionable claim that Medicaid is responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic.

For Johnson, there doesn’t seem to be an Alex Jones-type conspiracy theory that he won’t peddle. Most often, he jumps in and gets pilloried for failing to do an even basic review of facts. That’s why, whether he intends to or not, he is certainly playing the role of being Putin’s useful idiot.

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.