Donald Trump is counting on Mike Johnson to save him: The speaker will definitely try

Congress can't overturn a state court's conviction — but Mike Johnson will do literally anything Trump asks

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 17, 2024 9:32AM (EDT)

Donald Trump listens as Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks during a press conference at Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on April 12, 2024, in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Donald Trump listens as Speaker of the House Mike Johnson speaks during a press conference at Mr. Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate on April 12, 2024, in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Over the weekend Donald Trump committed one of his worst verbal "glitches" of the campaign so far. After delivering his standard line about how Joe Biden should be forced to take a cognitive test and rambling on about how he had "aced" his, Trump then said:

Doc Ronny Johnson, does everyone know Doc Ronny Johnson from Texas? He was the White House doctor and he said that I was the healthiest, he feels, president in history so I liked him very much.

Trump was very close with this former White House physician and Navy admiral — who was demoted to captain for a range of inappropriate behavior, including drinking on the job — who is now in Congress. I wrote about their relationship some years back:

Brig. Gen. Dr. Richard Tubb said in a letter that the doctor had been attached like "Velcro" to Trump since Inauguration Day. Tubb explained that [the] office is “one of only a very few in the White House Residence proper,” located directly across the hall from the president’s private elevator. He said that "on any given day 'physician's office,' as it is known, is generally the first and last to see the President."

So Trump surely knows, or at least used to know, that the doctor's last name is Jackson, not Johnson. He does that a lot, doesn't he? Recall that he repeatedly confused Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi at another rally earlier this year. But doing it in the same breath as he slags Biden's cognitive abilities takes it to a whole other level.

If I had to guess, maybe Trump was confusing Jackson's name with that of House Speaker Mike Johnson, whom he's reportedly been haranguing to somehow overturn his New York criminal conviction. (Which really isn't something the Congress can do —perhaps he confused him with his former fixer Michael Cohen.)

Politico reports that Trump is obsessed with the idea of using congressional power to go after Democrats he believes have "weaponized" the justice system:

It’s a campaign he orchestrated in the days after his May 31 conviction on 34 felony counts in New York, starting with a phone call to the man he wanted to lead it: Speaker Mike Johnson. Trump was still angry when he made the call, according to those who have heard accounts of it from Johnson, dropping frequent F-bombs as he spoke with the soft-spoken and pious GOP leader.

“We have to overturn this,” Trump insisted.

That's an interesting choice of words, don't you think? He has a habit of calling people up and demanding they "overturn" outcomes he doesn't like. Recall the famous call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger demanding that he "find" enough votes to overturn the election result in that state. He said publicly, more than once, that he believed the Supreme Court would overturn the results of the 2020 election, largely because the three justices he'd put on the bench owed it to him. At one point he was just posting #OVERTURN on social media.

That obviously didn't work, but it hasn't stopped him from deploying the same demands in the wake of his conviction last month. Unlike Raffensperger, Johnson appears ready and willing to do what he can to help. After all, he was an election denier before it was cool.

Back in 2020, Johnson was among those who argued that the way some state officials had changed voting procedures during the pandemic was unconstitutional. He reportedly strong-armed 125 House members to join him in a Supreme Court brief supporting a lawsuit filed in Texas to undo the election results in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Wisconsin. According to ABC News, Johnson "told them Donald Trump was watching" and let it be known that he was in close contact with the then-president.

The Supreme Court refused to take that case due to lack of standing but Johnson didn't let up. He trafficked in some of the kookiest election conspiracy theories, including the one about how Dominion voting machines were rigged and somehow tied to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013. In other words, Johnson is a card-carrying election denier who will do everything he can to help Trump this November if he wants to challenge the results again (which he and the Republican National Committee are already setting up to do, should Trump lose).

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Trump obviously knows this, which is why he immediately got Johnson on the horn after the conviction, hurling the aforementioned "F-bombs" and demanding that Johnson find a way to throw out his conviction. Politico reports that Johnson was already on board:

The speaker didn’t really need to be convinced, one person familiar with the conversation said: Johnson, a former attorney himself, already believed the House had a role to play in addressing Trump’s predicament. The two have since spoken on the subject multiple times.

Whether the speaker can fulfill Trump's demands is another story. House Republicans managed to vote to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt last week — but that wasn't easy to pull off and will have no practical effect. It's unclear whether  they can pass any of their proposals to punish those who are prosecuting Trump, let alone a proposed law that would allow presidents to move state cases to federal court. While Johnson is reportedly still interested in trying to "defund" special counsel Jack Smith's office, one senior appropriator told Politico that was a "stupid" idea. Needless to say, no such bills will pass the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority. 

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Johnson may be doing all this to appease the hard right and fend off another effort to oust him from the speaker's office. I'd say it's more likely that he's trying to help Trump because he's a true believer. 

After Trump demanded that Johnson overturn the conviction, the speaker appeared on "Fox and Friends" to reassure the faithful that his pals on the Supreme Court would take care of it:

I think that the justices on the court — I know many of them personally — I think they are deeply concerned about that, as we are. So I think they’ll set this straight. This will be overturned, guys, there’s no question about it; it’s just going to take some time to do it.

That had to be music to Trump's ears and no doubt made him love the speaker even more. But I hope Johnson doesn't expect the ex-president to remember all these favors. He's having a little trouble in that department lately. At this point, Trump could confuse him with Mike Pence and all that goodwill would go right out the window. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Conviction Donald Trump Mike Johnson Ronny Jackson Supreme Court Trump Trial