Senator Ron Johnson joined me today:
HH: I’m pleased to welcome back Senator Ron Johnson, one of our favorite guests here on the Hugh Hewitt Show. Good morning, Senator Johnson, welcome.
RJ: Good morning, Hugh, how are you doing?
HH: Good, but I’m concerned. Let’s go right to the heart of the news. An hour ago, the President tweeted Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming – nice, new and smart. You shouldn’t be partners with a gas-killing animal who kills his people and enjoys it. Your reaction, Senator Johnson?
RJ: I’m not real nuts about diplomacy by tweet. And you know, from my standpoint, it also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to signal what you’re doing. We do need to verify this. I think it’s positive that the President’s been talking to our NATO allies, France and Germany. A multilateral approach in this case would be good. I think the fact that we’re at least exposing Russia in the UN is a good thing, and I think public exposure right now is probably the best. And by the way, he’s absolutely right. We need to expose Putin’s complicity with the war criminal Assad regime. And I think that’s going to be better than, at this late date, you know, there are already reports that Syria is moving its military assets. So how effective would a strike be? So yeah, I think working through a multilateral approach is probably the best thing to do right now, and public exposure.
HH: It doesn’t seem to me to be diplomacy. It seems to me to be that we are going to strike Syria today, tomorrow or the next day, probably in concert with France, maybe not Great Britain, according to the Times of London. Do you welcome the use of military force? And do you agree with your colleague, Mike Rounds, who was on the show last hour and said we ought to use a very regime-threatening attack, which is, “very regime-threatening attack”. That’s different than our policy on Syria to date.
RJ: Well, it needs to be effective if it’s going to be done. And if we’re going to do it in concert with at least one of our allies, that’s also a good thing. But again, my concern is every day that passes, they move their military assets. I don’t want to just do a military strike for show. I want it to be effective.
HH: Would you consider attacking his palaces and the houses of the elite to be effective? That strikes at the elite, the Alawite cult clan that is holding onto power under Assad’s name as a legitimate target?
RJ: I really want to see the strategy. I want to see it under Obama. I want to see it under Trump before we start taking that kind of action.
HH: All right. All right, let me turn…
RJ: And we just don’t, we still do not have a well-defined, developed strategy in terms of what, mainly because Syria is a mess and because of President Obama bugging out of Iraq and doing nothing in Syria for years. This has spun out of control. And let’s face it. Assad won the war of Aleppo, and you know, Iran and Russia are now, have greater influence in Syria. And so this is a huge mess.
HH: Are you afraid of Russians and Iranians getting killed in these attacks and what that could lead to, Senator Johnson?
RJ: Well, I’m certainly concerned about the impact it could have on retaliation from Russia, absolutely. Not so much Iran, but certainly, we need to be concerned about Russia.
HH: What do you think Russia could do?
RJ: Well, Russia does have 7,000 nuclear weapons. They have intermediate range missiles now that have it. They can strike in other areas. You know, I’m concerned about what they may or may not do in terms of further aggression into, for example, the Baltic States, you know, they could further do in Ukraine. So you know, we need to show strength and resolve toward Russia. Again, it’s a mess.
HH: Do you think it’s Cuban Missile Crisis level of danger?
RJ: I don’t think it’s at that point, yet, but I think people need to be very concerned.
HH: All right, let me switch to Michael Cohen. I talked with Senator Rounds about this. I did an event last night with 500 people in Pasadena with my colleague, Larry Elder, and Sebastian Gorka, former deputy assistant to the President. And the audience was obviously very upset that the President’s lawyer’s office had been swept, his hotel room, his house as well, and the President’s personal papers taken into custody. What was your reaction to the Cohen raids?
RJ: Well, two things keep running through my brain. First of all, you know, I’ve been a three year investigation under the Hillary Clinton email scandal and the FBI’s investigation of it. And just the stark contrast between the investigation against Trump and the Trump administration versus the lack of investigation, whether it’s the Lois Lerner and the IRS scandal or the Hillary Clinton email scandal or whatever, a huge contrast. The other thing I finally did download the book, Three Felonies A Day. You know, we have criminalized so much political activity. And you know, my concern always has been with the Special Counsel, I don’t know what, and the reports are that this is all about Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougall. I’m not sure what Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougall have to do with potential Russian interference in the U.S. election. So that’s always a concern about special counsels. And I think my final thought is we need closure on this investigation. This has gone, this has dragged on for a year. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t, I thought that the Special Counsel was named far too soon. I would have rather seen the House and the Senate complete their work, because Senate investigations, House investigations, are all about public exposure and disclosure, which in this case, when you’re talking about a political prosecution, that’s the most important thing here.
HH: Now this is an uncomfortable conversation for me, because I like and admire Attorney General Sessions. He’s been a guest on this show, and a friend for many years, and he was your colleague for six years. But he, Rod Rosenstein authorized the seizure of the Michael Cohen office papers which belonged to the President. He authorized that personally. Does Jeff Sessions need to consider stepping down so that someone can run the Department of Justice whom the President has confidence in?
RJ: That’s totally up to Attorney General Sessions. I’ll tell you what. One of my concerns is with the obstruction Democrats have demonstrated in terms of confirmations, which is a whole different story here. We have to get Mike Pompeo, the CIA director. You know, we have a lot of confirmations. Personally, I would hate to see another one come through the Senate in terms of trying to confirm a new Attorney General in this atmosphere.
HH: Well, there are a couple of people in the Cabinet like Alex Azar over at HHS, a great Luttig clerk, and you’ve got Acosta, another one of our brilliant legal minds who could be the DOJ, even if Scott Pruitt, who’s also been rumored for that, is currently too under the weather, too assailed by political opponents to take that on. But I do think there’s a question about whether Rod Rosenstein has a good grip on this. This is what Mike Rounds said, Senator. He said this was done to irritate President Trump, this raid. It’s one more opportunity for them to find one more incident to allow them to investigate, and that President Trump shouldn’t get into a tit for tat, because they don’t have anything. Don’t take the bait. So do you think Rod Rosenstein is baiting the President, like Mike Rounds does?
RJ: I mean, I really, I don’t have the knowledge to really express an opinion, but it was an extraordinary step. And it does raise all kinds of questions.
HH: Now you’re on Homeland Security. So you know what a SCIF is. For the benefit of the Steelers fans, let’s explain. That’s a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility where we put our most sensitive documents. The FBI took all of the President’s private papers that Michael Cohen had. Do you have any idea where they’re being stored? And should they be in a SCIF?
RJ: I have no idea. I’m sure the FBI has its own secure facilities. But most areas of government do that handle classified material. So there are SCIFs all over the place.
HH: So do you trust the Bureau and the Department of Justice to actually run a, what they call a taint team that is fair about the President’s documents, because they would include his last will and testament, I assume. It would include his divorce settlements. I assume they would include every non-disclosure agreement he’s ever signed with anyone. I mean, this is very sensitive stuff that would be of interest to hostile powers.
RJ: Well, Hugh, ever since the Peter Strzok-Lisa Page texts came out, and we reopened our investigation on Hillary Clinton email scandal and the FBI’s investigation of it, I’ve developed more and more serious questions regarding the FBI and the Department of Justice. You know, there certainly appears to me possible corruption. I’m very looking forward to seeing the Office of Inspector General’s report on McCabe and the FBI’s investigation into the Hillary Clinton email scandal. And I’m certainly hoping that Inspector General Horowitz comes before my committee as soon as that report is issued. So no, I’ve got some real questions. I think the American public deserves an awful lot of answers.
HH: Will Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein also be appearing before your committee?
RJ: That’s a real possibility. We’ve got a letter to the Attorney General, to him, to Horowitz about who is making the decisions on what information they’re providing our committee and Congressional committees. Who’s making the redactions? I mean, you know, we had, you know, we got some of these texts, and then through a leak from someplace else, we found out about the discussion on trying to set up a dinner party with a FISA Court judge, and that was completely redacted from the texts we received. So you know, again, the Department of Justice, the FBI, has got an awful lot of explaining to do.
HH: Well, see, this is very troubling. I’m a DOJ alum, and I hold it in the highest esteem like I, and I hold Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions in the highest esteem. I know a lot of [Rachel] Brand, I know a lot of people over there. But I am losing confidence because of what seemed to me to be wildly erratic practices here between administrations and leaks which just do not stop. Do you share that, Senator Johnson?
RJ: Yeah, I mean, that’s the other thing is you know, all the leaking in terms of what’s been happening, you know, who’s being subpoenaed, you know, who’s offices are being searched, I mean, that ought to be, that ought to be confidential, from my standpoint. And so no, I have made the point to the Attorney General that the best way to lift the cloud of suspicion to restore confidence in the Department of Justice and the FBI is full disclosure. And to this point in time, we are not getting it. And I’m going to, again, this is not going to deter me. I’m going to be very diligent in my pursuit of getting these answers. My concern is the public loses interest in it.
HH: Oh, we’re not going to lose interest.
RJ: You know, it’s old news. It’s like Lois Lerner. You know, we still don’t know exactly what happened with Lois Lerner, which I think is a travesty.
HH: We do not, but I do think a lot of this goes to the fact that General Sessions, good man though he is, is recused from the Russia investigation and therefore, you don’t have genuine leadership at the Department. I think that’s a problem. Let me close by asking you about judicial nominations. I wrote a column for the Washington Post two days ago. I think you guys should be in session 24/7, seven days a week, from now until every judicial nominee and every ambassadorial nominee, Rick Grenell included, beginning with Rick, maybe, is heard and confirmed. What is the deal with the Senate’s workweek?
RJ: You know, Hugh, before this Congress started, we had a Republican conference. I’m the guy that stood up and said you know, the most precious time, the most precious resource, the scarce resource is Senate floor time. Let’s start working 24/7. I’m the guy that proposed it. I come from a manufacturing background. That’s a terminology for shift work – 24/7. So I’ve been proposing this for well over a year. So we should. We should be forcing Democrats, and again, if that doesn’t work, we should have been doing this, we should have been doing this for at least a year. But we, I’ve also been proposing, because I don’t think the Democrats will cooperate, is we should use Harry Reid’s precedent and change the rules of the Senate with 51 votes, and dramatically reduce the time it takes on nominations.
RJ: This is ridiculous. You know, committees do a great job of vetting.
RJ: …nominees. And Democrats have more than enough time to raise any issues. But then bring them to the floor of the Senate. I would allow about five minutes equally defined by both sides and then vote.
HH: Okay, last quick question.
RJ: We should have been doing this for a year.
HH: Last quick question, breaking news, Paul Ryan is going to tell his House colleagues he is not running for reelection according to Axios’ Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan. Your reaction to Paul Ryan’s announced retirement?
RJ: Well, first of all, I’m going to be on a conference call with him shortly, so I don’t know what he’s going to say.
HH: If he does announce his retirement, what’s your reaction?
RJ: Well, listen, I think Paul is such a person of integrity, I would understand. I’ll understand his decision either way. It’s up to Paul.
HH: What’s, what does that telegraph about the elections in November, if anything?
RJ: Not a real positive sign. But again, there are a lot of not positive signs out there. Just in terms of what is happening in Wisconsin, our most recent Supreme Court race was not a real good sign.
HH: Can that be turned around, Senator?
RJ: I sure hope so. You know, our supporters may be disappointed in us, but you take a look at the accomplishments we have had. We did save the Supreme Court. We have stopped the regulatory burden. We made American businesses more competitive, tax-wise. Yeah, we haven’t accomplished a number of things that were promised. Nobody could be more frustrated and disappointed than me in terms of our lack of accomplishment. But if the Democrats were in charge, you wouldn’t have the regulatory relief. We wouldn’t have the kind of optimism we have with our economy. So you know, the situation would be far worse. So it’s just crucial. I’m not giving up. That’s for sure. Nobody can.
HH: Senator Ron Johnson, thank you.
RJ: Have a great day.
End of interview.