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Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson attempted to avoid answering reporters’ questions as he left the Capitol by pretending to be on his phone, but he was called out by one of the journalists who spotted his screen.
Mr Johnson was walking out of the congressional building on Tuesday after the hearing of the January 6 House Select Committee. The hearing presented texts between one of the senator’s staffers and an aide to then-Vice President Mike Pence.
The conversation took place not long after the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s victory was halted by the violent mob of Trump supporters laying siege to the Capitol.
Mr Johnson’s Chief of Staff Sean Riley wrote to Pence aide Chris Hodgson to say that the senator had an “alternate slate of electors” supporting then-President Donald Trump for Mr Pence to look over before the certification that he would be presiding over that day.
“Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS please advise,” Mr Riley wrote to Mr Hodgson.
“What is it?” the Pence aide asked.
“Alternate slate of electors for [Michigan] and [Wisconsin] because archivist didn’t receive them,” Mr Riley responded.
“Do not give that to him,” Mr Hodgson said, guidance that was apparently adhered to, but which nevertheless Mr Johnson was asked about on Tuesday following the January 6 Committee hearing.
The senator was asked about the revelations from the hearing by Frank Thorp of NBC News and Manu Raju of CNN.
“How much did you know about what your chief of staff was doing with the alternate slates of the electors?” Mr Thorp asked.
“I’m on the phone right now,” Mr Johnson said.
“No, you’re not. I can see your phone. I can see your screen,” Mr Thorp noted.
“Senator, can you explain with your chief of staff was doing?” Mr Raju said.
“Does your chief-of-staff still work for you, senator?” Mr Thorp asked.
Mr Johnson then put his phone down.
“This a complete non-story,” he told the reporters. “I don’t know what you’re even concerned about here.”
He added that he didn’t know about the conversation, noting that it was a “staff to staff exchange”.
“I was basically, you know, unaware of it,” he said. He added that the alternate slate of electors had been provided to his office but said that he didn’t know by whom.
“I had no involvement in an alternate slate of electors,” he said.
“I was aware that we got something delivered that wanted to be delivered to the VP, I mean guys this, this took place in, I don’t know, the span of a few minutes. And the story ended. There’s nothing to this,” Mr Johnson said, according to Mr Thorp.
“I knew we got something that wanted to be delivered to the Vice President, that’s it. There’s no story here,” Mr Johnson told the reporters.