Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on Sunday accused Democrats of paving the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine. According to the senator's somewhat tortured logic, the first impeachment of Donald Trump, over his attempt to blackmail the Ukrainian president, somehow empowered Putin's aggression.
Johnson appeared on Fox News as numerous Republicans over the weekend issued statements blaming President Biden for Putin's aggression, even though it was Trump who sought to withhold defense aid — already authorized by Congress — from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky unless the latter helped Trump smear Biden in the 2020 election. Johnson spread the blame widely, suggesting that Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and impeachment witness Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman were all responsible after they tried to hold Trump accountable for the blackmail scheme led by Rudy Giuliani.
"I don't think Vladimir Putin would have moved on Ukraine were it not for the weakness displayed ― certainly by the Biden administration, but by the West in general," Johnson told Fox. "I'm certainly hoping that Col. Vindman, Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi ― who used Ukraine as a pawn in their impeachment travesty ― are also recognizing and reflecting about how they weakened Ukraine, weakened the West, weakened America by the divisive politics that they play."
"There's much blame to go around, but in terms of atrocities, that falls squarely on the shoulders of Vladimir Putin and his cronies," he added.
Johnson notably did not place any of the blame on Trump, who withheld nearly $400 million in military aid in an effort to pressure Zelensky into launching an investigation into Biden's family over an alleged corruption scandal. Congress had approved the aid to help Ukraine battle Russian aggression, and Trump finally released the money after coming under pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle once the scheme was exposed.
At the time, Zelensky repeatedly sought a meeting with Trump, which the former president never granted, while repeatedly trying to ingratiate himself to Putin. Zelensky was finally welcomed to the White House last year after Biden took office.
Johnson supported Trump during both of the former president's impeachment trials and played a key role in helping Trump stoke conspiracy theories about Russia and Ukraine. In 2020, the FBI warned Johnson, who was then chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, of a Russian disinformation scheme involving Giuliani as a go-between. But the senator blew off the warning as "completely useless and unnecessary." Johnson also met with a former Ukrainian diplomat friendly to Russia, who pushed baseless allegations that it was the Ukrainian government, not the Russians, who had interfered in the 2016 election, as part of Johnson's effort to help Trump spin his connections to Russia during the 2019 impeachment proceedings.
Schiff, who led Trump's impeachment proceedings in the House, wrote on Twitter that Johnson is "clearly confused."
"It was Trump who withheld military aid from Ukraine. It was Trump who demanded a 'favor' from Zelenskyy in exchange for the aid. It was Trump who weakened Ukraine. And it was Senator Johnson who voted to acquit," Schiff wrote. "Sit this one out, Senator."
Vindman shared a defense from his wife, Rachel, who tweeted that Johnson "is the last person anyone would want in their foxhole."
"Also, he's a piece of shit," she added.
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Vindman, who testified to Congress that he blew the whistle on Trump's call with Zelensky to higher-ups and later sued Trump allies, alleging a witness intimidation campaign, told Vice News over the weekend that Trump's blackmail scheme had "absolutely" weakened Ukraine's defenses by undermining the country's military preparations.
"It's because of Trump's corruption that we have a less capable, less prepared Ukraine," Vindman told the outlet.
Vindman, who served as director of Eastern European affairs on the White House National Security Council, also told Salon's Chauncey DeVega, in an interview published Monday, that Republicans had "stepped into a trap" by supporting Putin.
Trump and his supporters "were cheering on this vile tyrant as he attempts to destroy a peaceful country on his border, a democracy, and now they're going to own that decision," Vindman said. "The Tucker Carlsons, the Donald Trumps, the Mike Pompeos, they and other Republicans are going to have to own this issue because they are the reason that Russia launched this operation."
Attorney Daniel Goldman, who served as House Democrats' counsel during Trump's first impeachment, wrote on Twitter that Johnson himself played a role in fueling Russia's invasion of Ukraine, accusing the senator of having "knowingly promoted Russian disinformation from known Russian assets in Ukraine to help Trump's re-election in 2020, even though you knew it was all bogus."
"You parroted disinformation that you knew was Russian propaganda designed to undermine Ukraine, not Russia," Goldman wrote in response to Johnson. "You clearly do not understand what collusion means, but regardless, accusing Russia of colluding with Trump makes Russia weaker, not Ukraine."