WASHINGTON — Some of President Trump’s staunchest defenders in the Senate have twisted themselves into contortions to avoid becoming enmeshed in the impeachment inquiry into his pressure campaign on Ukraine.
Then there is Senator Ron Johnson.
Long an outspoken advocate of Ukraine, Mr. Johnson, a manufacturing baron from northeastern Wisconsin elected in 2010 on the Tea Party wave, has landed squarely in the middle of the impeachment inquiry. He is now emerging as one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal congressional allies.
The outsize role Mr. Johnson has played in Mr. Trump’s Ukraine policy was illustrated in an 11-page slash-and-burn letter he released on Monday. In that telling, he appeared over and over as a supporting character in a series of events House investigators are scrutinizing alongside a number of witnesses who will testify this week.
He was there in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and conveyed to the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, that he had tried but failed to persuade Mr. Trump to release the aid. He was there in the Oval Office next to two of the inquiry’s key witnesses to brief Mr. Trump about their meeting with Mr. Zelensky after his inauguration. He was there to personally confront Mr. Trump about allegations he was withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a guarantee the nation would investigate his political rivals.
“It’s vintage Ron Johnson,” said Brandon Scholz, a Republican strategist and former executive director of the Wisconsin Republican state party. “He’s in deeper water than most others, and I don’t think he’s afraid to be there.”
As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and a leader of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, Mr. Johnson has for years traveled to Ukraine and worked to build a relationship with the nation’s officials. Now considered a witness with firsthand information, he is prepared to use the newfound spotlight to defend the president.
In his letter, sent to the top Republicans on the House Intelligence and Oversight and Reform Committees upon their request, Mr. Johnson initiated a broadside against the Democratic-led inquiry as “a concerted, and possibly coordinated effort to sabotage the Trump administration that probably began in earnest the day after the 2016 presidential election.”
He singled out Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, who testified on Tuesday, as a possible bureaucrat out to get the president. Colonel Vindman testified on Tuesday that he is not a “Never Trumper” and, as a military officer assigned to the National Security Council, is strictly nonpartisan.
Mr. Johnson in the past has been an outspoken advocate of protections for whistle-blowers and oversaw a hearing in 2015 where he emphasized their importance. “It is the only way we are going to reform government, reform bureaucracy, is if people know about it, if the public has the light of day shone upon abuse and corruption,” he said then.
But in his letter on Monday, he offered a caveat: “Not all whistle-blowers are created equal.” An anonymous whistle-blower complaint first brought to light concern about a call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky.
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Johnson said it was “disappointing” that the news media had focused on his concerns about an entrenched bureaucratic class working against the president. “The real guts of my response,” he said, was not about those fears, adding that he had “nothing but the utmost respect” for Colonel Vindman.
Still, he continued, he found some of the colonel’s testimony “pretty strange.”
His Republican colleagues in the Senate in large measure have been more restrained in dealing with the president’s Ukraine policies and the ensuing investigation into them. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who called the president and successfully implored him to release the aid to Ukraine, has methodically kept out of the limelight ever since. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a usual defender of Mr. Trump and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has steadfastly ignored entreaties from the right to conduct his own counterinvestigation, and he has tried to pass that baton to Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who has also demurred.
Mr. Johnson has jumped right in. He and Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the oversight panel, have traded congressional aides back and forth, the Wisconsin Republican said in a brief interview, and Mr. Jordan reached out to his office last week “to give some details” before more witnesses testified before the House Intelligence Committee.
“One thing led to the other and it was kind of a natural progression of things,” he said.
At home, Mr. Johnson has cultivated a reputation as someone who will not back down from a fight. That reputation seeped through his letter on Monday, when he freely admitted to wincing after initially being told that Mr. Trump had linked the Ukrainian aid to investigations into his political rivals, and at times professed that his memory of certain conversations was blurry at best.
Detailing a meeting he had with the president as well as with three impeachment witnesses in the Oval Office, including Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, Mr. Johnson wrote that he was aware that Mr. Sondland testified that the president directed the delegation to work with his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. But Mr. Johnson said that he had no such recollection.
“It is entirely possible he did, but because I do not work for the president,” he wrote, “if made, that comment simply didn’t register with me.”
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