The New York Times grilled Senator Ron Johnson about why he relied on a Center for Security Policy analyst’s eyewitness account of events leading up to the January 6 riot at the US Capitol.
The Wisconsin Republican, who chaired the Senate Homeland Security Committee until earlier this year, read from an article by Center Senior Analyst for Security J. Michael Waller during a joint investigative hearing on February 23.
Klobuchar, CNN & Schumer rage: ‘disinformation,’ ‘mindless garbage’
Fallout from Johnson’s comments was harsh.
CNN Editor-at-Large Chris Cillizza and Josh Campbell (an errand boy for FBI director James Comey before joining the network) one-upped Klobuchar by calling it a “ridiculous conspiracy theory.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer ripped Johnson, calling it all “mindless garbage.”
New York Times asks Senator Johnson why he cited Waller
Reid J. Epstein of the New York Times wanted to know why Johnson cited Waller’s observations as evidence on the first day of the joint Senate hearing to investigate the Capitol attack.
So Johnson told him.
“I’m not afraid of information,” said Johnson. “I’m amazed at how many people are. And how quick people are to put the conspiracy theory label on something, or call it disinformation.”
“Mr. Johnson has a reputation for being among the most accessible, high-profile Republicans in Washington, regularly defending his views to the mainstream news media — something many of his G.O.P. colleagues do not do,” Epstein wrote in a March 1 piece.
Epstein asked Johnson, “In the Senate hearing the other day, you read the piece from The Federalist that suggested there were sort of provocateurs and ‘fake Trump supporters’ that had designs on generating trouble from the crowd. And I wondered, do you share that analysis?”
Johnson said it’s important “to look at different vantage points, different perspectives,” to get to the bottom of who did what at the Capitol that day. He told the New York Times:
“I read that article, I think, as soon as it was published, which was shortly after Jan. 6. And I was intrigued by it. Because here was an individual that, again, I didn’t know him at the time. I actually spoke to him yesterday for the first time. But I didn’t know who he was. It just looks like he had a pretty good background. This is an instructor, focusing on this type of psychological type of warfare and that type of thing. So he seemed to be a knowledgeable observer.
“And I was just fascinated by the fact that he wrote down his thoughts, about 14, 15 pages, without looking at any news. So it’s kind of an unblemished accounting. And that’s really kind of the eyewitness accounts you want to examine. I’m not saying you accept everything. You don’t necessarily accept his conclusions. I think you kind of have to take at face value what he said he saw.”
Johnson: ‘I’m not questioning his veracity’
“Do you believe that, as the Federalist author Michael Waller wrote, that there were fake Trump protesters in the crowd?” asked Epstein.
“That’s what he said he thought he saw. I think later in the article, he didn’t see any who he would have thought were fake Trump protesters, he didn’t see them engage in any violence. I think he writes that in his article. Yeah, I’m letting his testimony stand on its own. I wasn’t there,” the senator said.
“Again, I’m drawing no conclusions whatsoever. Again, a lot of press reports are assuming, imputing all kinds of conclusions. They’re saying I’m saying things that I’m not saying at all. All I’m saying at this point in time is we need to ask a lot of questions,” said Johnson.
The New York Times was still skeptical of the Center for Security Policy senior analyst’s eyewitness account.
Epstein said, “I wonder why you think there is merit to giving an audience to Mr. Waller’s assertions that there were either provocateurs or fake Trump supporters in the crowd, given the lack of evidence.”
“I’m not questioning his veracity,” replied Johnson. “I believe he’s probably telling the truth. That’s what he saw. I’m not agreeing with any conclusions. I’m not sure he’s really making too many conclusions, other than he concluded he saw four individual types of groups that stood out from the crowd.”
Waller’s report doesn’t fit a prevailing narrative
No eyewitness account is perfect. Johnson hinted that Waller’s report is being attacked because it doesn’t fit a certain political narrative. “It might be a flawed part of the evidence, but why exclude it?” the senator asked. “Just because it doesn’t necessarily tie into whatever narrative somebody else wants to tell about the day? I’m not interested in the narratives, I’m interested in the truth.”
Further in the interview, Epstein continued, “You said you want what you say to be accurate. And you read Mr. Waller’s piece, but without necessarily doing any due diligence to see whether what he was saying checked out.”
“What do you mean, checked out?” said Johnson. “It’s his eyewitness account. What else is there to check out about it? I read what his credentials were, where he was teaching, at Fort Bragg. I mean, you can see in the article what his credentials are. He seemed to be pretty solid.”
‘It’s just one piece of information that … needs to be tested’
Waller isn’t alone in what he saw. The Washington Post found similar information and the FBI affirmed that Waller’s account, as related by Johnson, coincided with what federal agents were uncovering.
“A couple days later The Washington Post wrote an article that was very close to kind of describing things as Mr. Waller did, too,” the senator told the New York Times. “So that added further credence, from my standpoint, that what he saw, other people kind of saw and noticed and drew similar types of conclusions. Again, it’s just one piece of information that needs to be looked at, needs to be considered, needs to be tested, needs to be verified, compared against other things.”
Two days after the New York Times interview appeared, FBI Assistant Director Jill Sanborn told Johnson in a Senate hearing that “we’re definitely seeing that portion that you pointed out” in Waller’s article.