Usually the Trump administration welcomes Sunday-circuit opportunities to defend or distract from the president’s meltdown of the week, but with the White House in crisis in the midst of the rapidly developing scandal in Ukraine, no one from the administration appeared on CNN, Fox, ABC, CBS or NBC on October 6. To speak on Trump’s behalf on Sunday, all that remained were true believers like Representative Jim Jordan, Rudy Giuliani, and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.
In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Jordan borrowed Marco Rubio’s dismissal of Trump’s open request for China to investigate the Biden family, claiming that it was not serious — though one Trump ally did confirm with CNN that he was serious and such an inquiry would be a great way to build goodwill with the president. Jordan also refused to answer whether or not such a request was appropriate, suggesting, perhaps, that a broad-daylight ask for a third country to investigate a political rival may not be ethical behavior.
Giuliani also went a familiar route, bringing out visual aids to bolster his yelling. Two weeks ago, he was reading his texts from an iPad; on Sunday, he printed out papers he said were “three affidavits from Ukrainian prosecutors,” though NBC News reporter Ben Collins notes that they were just blog print-outs.
Easily the strangest Sunday appearance came from Senator Johnson, who dropped into full deep-state conspiracy mode on Meet the Press, talking over host Chuck Todd in a contentious 10-minute interview. After Todd asked about a Friday interview with the Wall Street Journal in which Johnson said the possibility of a Ukraine quid-pro-quo made him “wince,” the senator diverted, hitting one of the president’s favorite diversionary tactics: the relationship between former FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. (In their affair during the election, the two shared personal messages critical of Trump, which the president has called an act of “treason.” The texts have become pretext for a right-wing, deep-state conspiracy claiming that the FBI is biased against the president.) As Johnson refused to answer questions on the Trump administration’s activity in Ukraine, Todd eventually pressed him on whether or not he trusted the FBI and CIA at all. The exchange takes place around the seven-minute mark in the video below.
Todd: “Do you not trust the FBI, you don’t trust the CIA, I’m just very confused here.”
Johnson: “No, no I don’t, absolutely not. After Peter Strzok and Lisa Page?”
Clearly, Johnson is performing for the president, grabbing at loyalty points as other Republican lawmakers (wisely) choose not to weigh in. But this unsubstantiated anti-intelligence act wasn’t a new routine for him: In the winter of 2018, Johnson determined that there was “corruption of the highest levels of the FBI” based off Strzok-Page texts involving a “secret society” that actually just had to do with a “Vladimir Putin-themed gag gift.”
Though it’s unlikely that Johnson will express valid reasons to doubt the net benefit of the CIA and FBI, having the chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security share his profound doubts in the intelligence community certainly shows how far Trump allies are willing to stoop to wrangle up some presidential favor.