WASHINGTON — Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson defended President Donald Trump’s recent calls for China and Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden in a combative "Meet the Press" interview Sunday morning where he accused Democrats and the media of trying to sabotage the Trump administration.
“Let me tell you why I’m pretty sympathetic with what President Trump has gone through,” Johnson said when asked about allegations of an effort by the president and his administration to link military aid for Ukraine to promises from the government there to investigate Biden and the origins of former special counsel Bob Mueller's investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 election.
“I’ve never in my lifetime seen a president, after being elected, not having some measure of well wishes from his opponents. I’ve never seen a president’s administration be sabotaged from the day after the election.”
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson
FILE - In this June 26, 2019 file photo, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, speaks during a hearing on border security, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Johnson said Friday he learned from a U.S. ambassador that President Donald Trump was tying military aid for Ukraine to an investigation of the 2016 election. But when asked if he could assure the Ukraine leadership the money would be coming, Trump blocked him from carrying that message. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks with members of the media after meeting with the Middleton Chamber of Commerce at Serendipity Labs in Madison, Wis., Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. Johnson Thursday that there was nothing wrong with President Donald Trump asking China and the Ukraine to investigate former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden and his son. (Amber Arnold/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., heads to the Senate for a vote, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., walks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2019, after attending a briefing on election security. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, speaks during a hearing on border security, Wednesday, June 26, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., second from left, shakes hands with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., second from right, as they participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Department of Homeland Security's St. Elizabeths Campus Center Building in Washington, Friday, June 21, 2019. General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy, left, and acting deputy undersecretary for management Randolph Alles, right, watch. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
FILE - In this April 27, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump, right, accompanied by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., left, arrives at Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, Wis. Republicans determined to deliver Wisconsin for Trump next year will emphasize at their state convention that starts Friday that they must do a better job engaging with grassroots voters if they hope to rebound from a devastating 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., center, holds up a Make America Great Again sign as President Donald Trump speaks at a Make America Great Again rally Saturday, April 27, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., greets guests on the tarmac as he arrives with President Donald Trump at Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, Wis., Saturday, April 27, 2019, for a rally. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, speaks during the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., on Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Donald Trump sought to use a speech by his wife to move beyond delegate discontent at the Republican National Convention, only to have the second day open with an onslaught of accusations that his wife's speech lifted phrases from one delivered by Michelle Obama in 2008. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
OTAY MESA, CA - APRIL 21: Department of Homeland Security John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Session speak to the media during a tour of the border and immigrant detention operations at Brown Field Station on April 21, 2017 in Otay Mesa, California. Secretary Kelly and Attorney General Sessions are on the second leg of a tour together this week after visiting El Paso and were joined by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ron Johnson (D-WI) questions Kirstjen Nielsen (unseen) on her nomination to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Washington, U.S., November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
UNITED STATES - APRIL 5: Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., talk before the arrival of Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on 'Improving Border Security and Public Safety'
on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Chairman Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) speaks prior to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testifying before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on border security on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, from left, Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, and Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, smile during a press conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 27, 2017. Senateï¿½Republicans are gearing up to try to pass a stripped-down Obamacare repeal plan many hope won't become law. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) speaks with reporters about the Senate health care bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) (L) speaks with reporters about healthcare legislation outside the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, speaks to members of the media in the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. Senate Republicans making one last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare have the daunting task of assembling 50 votes for an emotionally charged bill with limited details on how it would work, what it would cost and how it would affect health coverage -- all in 12 days. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senators John McCain (R-AZ) (L) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) (R) walk to their weekly party caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington September 16, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Billionaire Terry Gou, chairman of Foxconn Technology Group, center, and Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, right, smile as Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, left, speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. President Donald Trump announced that Foxconn plans a new factory in Wisconsin, fulfilling the Taiwanese manufacturing giants promise to invest in the U.S. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, center, speaks while Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, second left, and Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina, right, listen during a press conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017. Senate Republicans said they will make a major push in this fall's appropriations process to fund security enhancements along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a border wall. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Johnson has emerged as a one of the key congressional figures in the debate over whether Trump’s request of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate unproven claims against Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, amounts to an abuse of power. That issue is central to the House Democratic impeachment inquiry.
As chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Johnson was a vocal supporter of that military aid to the country.
Text messages released Friday show State Department officials discussing a link between the administration’s goal of getting Ukraine to launch investigations and scheduling the Ukranian president for an official White House visit.
But Johnson said that when a diplomat raised the prospect of a quid pro quo to him over the summer, he reached out to the president who “vehemently, adamantly” denied any link between the ask and the aid.
Instead, Johnson argued that Trump has a right to ask foreign governments to help America investigate the origins of the allegations that ultimately became central to Mueller’s investigation.
“I’m here to report today that, unlike the narrative of the press that President Trump wants to dig up dirt on his 2020 opponent, what he wants is an accounting of what happened in 2016. Who set him up? Did things spring from Ukraine?” Johnson said.
The combative interview prompted frustration from Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who followed Johnson’s interview.
“Ron’s a good friend, but I’m deeply scared by the positioning that Republicans have chosen to take. That interview was just a giant green light to the President of the United States to continue to solicit foreign interference in U.S. elections,” he said.
“This is wild, the lengths to which Republicans are going to avoid being criticized by this president.”
And he pointed to those recently released texts to accuse the Trump administration of mixing diplomacy and official business.
"The texts make it clear that there was a quid pro quo on the table, that the State Department, the White House, the president's personal lawyers were all working to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election in exchange for access to the White House and likely the resumption of aid," he added.