A Senate hearing regarding the 2020 election irregularities erupted in a fiery spar when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) admonished Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) in falsely accusing the committee chairman earlier this year in claims the probe into President-elect Joe Biden’s son Hunter was spreading “Russian disinformation.”
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held the first-ever hearing looking into the issues including voter fraud and other irregularities that plagued the 2020 election. Dubbed “Examining Irregularities in the 2020 Election.” Johnson announced last week in an interview with Fox News the need to hold a hearing to “resolve suspicions with full transparency and public awareness” over concerns that Americans are largely losing “confidence in our elections.”
Democrats quickly lambaste Johnson’s announcement, with Peters, the ranking member on the committee saying the “real goal” in holding a hearing will give a “bigger platform” for Republicans in “spreading the President’s lies and false narratives.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last Thursday called on Johnson to drop his plans in conducting this “ridiculous” hearing.
“The fact that our last two presidential elections have not been accepted as legitimate by large percentages of the America public is a serious problem that threatens our republic,” Johnson said in his opening statement. “This hearing is part of what should be ongoing congressional oversight that is meant to transparently address that problem.
“This is not a sustainable state of affairs in our democratic republic. But oversight into election security should continue into the next Congress because we must restore confidence in the integrity of our voting system. This effort should be bipartisan,” he added.
The fireworks between the two lawmakers stemmed when Peters during the hearing deflected from asking any question about the irregularities issued that plaguing the 2020 election and began to rehash the 2016 election in weaponizing a false “Russian disinformation” narrative as a tool for attacking President Trump.
Peters questioned Democrats expert witness, Chris Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security whom President Trump fired last month, refused to acknowledge testimonies from the witnesses that consisted of evidence of irregularities. Instead, Peters used his time allotted to claim the “disinformation campaigns” from President Trump on the 2020 election in citing “broadly claiming systemic irregularities,” which has led to adversaries like Russia in “taking advantage” of such information.
The baseless claim from Peters in his questioning appeared to have triggered Johnson’s reminder of Democrats’ vigorously criticizing his probe into Hunter Biden that would prove to be factual. Johnson said it was “galling” to hear Peters talk about Russian disinformation when the Michigan Democrat and other Democrats would falsely accused him and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) of “accepting and disseminating Russian disinformation.”
“I just have to talk about Russian disinformation because the people peddling it are not on my side of the aisle,” Johnson said. “Senior Democrat leaders, including ranking member Peters, were involved in the process of creating a false intelligence product. It was supposed to classified, but they leaked it to the media that accused Senator Grassley, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, and myself of accepting and disseminating Russian disinformation from Andrii Derkach. I never heard of the person until they brought it up. Senator Peters introduced that false information, Russian disinformation, into our investigation record.”
“50 people associated with the intelligence community after our Hunter Biden investigation and the revelations of the Hunter Biden’s computer said, ‘Oh, this is Russian disinformation.'” Johnson continued. “Now we find out, no, it’s a real investigation by the Justice Department. So it’s just galling and I just have to point out that the purveyors of Russian disinformation — Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the DNC, the Steele Dossier, the ranking member Peters, accusing Senator Grassley and I of disseminating Russian disinformation, that’s where the disinformation is coming. That’s where the false information, the lies, the false allegations.”
“I can’t sit by and listen to this and say that ‘this is not disinformation, this hearing today.’ This is getting information. We have to take a look at to restore confidence in our election integrity. We’re not going to be able to just move on without bringing up these irregularities, examining them and providing an explanation, and see where there really are problems so we can correct it moving forward,” he added
“Mr. Chairman, I got to respond to that,” Peters replied, eliciting a snarky, “try it” from the Wisconsin Republican.
“You say I’m putting out information. I had nothing to do with this report,” Peters claimed.
“You lied repeatedly!” Johnson snapped back. “You lied repeatedly in the press that I was spreading Russian disinformation, and that was an outright lie and I told you to stop lying and you continued to do it!”
“Mr. Chairman, this is not about airing your grievances. I don’t know what rabbit hole you’re running down right now,” Peters said. “This is simply not what we’re dealing with.”
“You talked about Russia disinformation,” Johnson responded while repeatedly banging his gavel to end the spar and to recognized Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as the next Senator to speak and grill the witnesses.
Peters ignored Johnson’s attempt to move on, pushing back to say, “Mr. Chairman, you can’t make these false allegations and then drop it at there. That is why this committee needs to return back to its…”
The Michigan Senator added, “This is terrible what you’re doing to this committee.”
“It is what you have done to this committee, falsely accusing the chairman of spreading disinformation,” Johnson fired back. “Nothing could have been further from the truth, and you’re spouting it again, which is why I had to respond.”
“This is outrageous,” Peters mumbled. “This is outrageous.”
The two Senators were disputing a letter Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) dated this past July that was sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray demanding a briefing where they claimed they were “gravely concerned” that Johnson-led investigation centered on Hunter Biden’s Ukraine business deal was becoming a vehicle seeking to “launder and amplify disinformation” to damage Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Earlier in the hearing, Peters vocally pushed back Johnson’s opening statement, saying in his own opening statement that holding this “irresponsible” hearing is intended is giving a “platform to conspiracy theories and lies, and it’s a destructive exercise that has no place in the Senate.”
“Let me be clear, deciding to move forward with this hearing today is still dangerous,” Peters said. “We have known for weeks that there was no widespread voter fraud, a fact that President Trump’s own Department of Justice confirmed. There was no election interference and the election wasn’t rigged. And despite the title of today’s hearing, there were no widespread election “irregularities” that affected the final outcome. These claims are false. And giving them more oxygen is a grave threat to the future of our democracy.”
“I understand the Chairman’s desire to ensure our elections run smoothly, and I agree that we need to restore faith and trust in our election process. But I am concerned today’s hearing will do more harm than good by confusing a few anecdotes about human error with the insidious claims the President has aired. Amplifying these obviously false narratives about fraud or irregularities, corrodes public trust, threatens our national security, and weakens our democracy and our standing around the world. Every time the President or his followers make these false claims, they destabilize our relationships with our allies and allow our authoritarian adversaries to undercut America’s democratic leadership around the globe,” Peters added.
The hearing also featured testimony from two Trump campaign attorneys — James Troupis, lead counsel for the Trump campaign in Wisconsin, and Jesse Binnall, lead counsel for the Trump campaign in Nevada, Pennsylvania state Rep. Francis Ryan (R) and Ken Starr, the former independent counsel who served on Trump’s legal team during the Senate impeachment trial earlier this year.
Binnall told the committee that the campaign’s in less than a month despite Nevada’s local county obstructed and stonewalled identified 130,000 unique instances of voter fraud. The campaign compiled their finding in their filed suit, but Binnall said their “evidence has never been refuted, only ignored,” and dealt with courts delaying proceedings for days, while offering the lawyers “merely hours to brief and argue our cases.”
All four witnesses raised concerns over signatures validation and deliveries of mail-in ballots, including ballot harvesting and the vulnerabilities in voting machines and the software being used that can be programmed to add or switch votes, whether the election system was being connected to the internet for a longer time, making them vulnerable to hackers.