(CNSNews.com) - In an August 31, 2019 phone call with President Trump, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he tried to get clearance from Trump to let the Ukrainians know that U.S. military aid was being released.
Johnson was traveling to Ukraine the following week, and he said wanted to make the announcement to President Zelensky in person.
"And so, when I asked him (Trump) that, he was, again, very consistent. He said: 'Ron, you know what a corrupt place it is. And besides, Ron, why isn't Europe stepping up to the plate? I talked to Angela Merkel and I said, why don't you provide funding for these things? And Angela Merkel tells me, because you will. You know…you're schmucks.'
"And that was the rationale that he had consistently been providing to certainly me and, I think, other people in his administration of why he had serious reservations -- and I would say legitimate reservations -- about providing hard-earned taxpayer dollars for Ukraine."
(Jake Tapper, host of CNN's "State of the Union," argued that Europe contributed $425.2 million, on average, to Ukraine in 2016-2017, while the U.S. was second with $204 million, so -- according to Tapper -- Trump's impression was "incorrect." However, Trump was concerned about FY 2019 U.S. military funding approved by Congress, which totaled almost $400 million.)
The Trump administration finally released aid to the Ukraine on Sept. 11, "largely due to pressure put on by people like me and Senator Portman and Senator Durbin and other people," Johnson said. "A lot of us were trying to put that pressure on. But again, I remain sympathetic with President Trump's legitimate concerns about the corruption."
When you are going to provide hundreds of million dollars of hard-earned American taxpayer dollars into a system, you want to make sure it is not corrupt. And he has been very consistent in his conversation with me and others that that was his reason for withholding the funding.
Tapper noted that Trump, in his July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Zelensky, mentioned two concerns: the hacking of the DNC server in 2016; and alleged corruption involving the Bidens.
But Johnson responded, "I have never heard the president say, now, I want to dig up dirt on a potential 2020 opponent.
“What I have always heard the president consistently concerned about is what happened in 2016. Why did this -- how did this false narrative of Russian collusion with my campaign occur? Why was I strapped with the special counsel?"
Johnson said Trump's desire to get to the bottom of what happened in 2016 "is a very human desire." And he pointed out several connections between Democrats (Alexandra Chalupa and Nellie Ohr) and Ukraine.
"So, there's a lot of smoke out (there),” Johnson said. “There's a lot of questions that remain unanswered. And from my perspective, it's a completely legitimate concern on the part of President Trump to find out, what happened? Why I have been tormented?
“Why have -- where's this effort to sabotage my -- my presidency since the day after the election? I'd be asking the same questions," Johnson said. "And by the way, I am asking the same questions."
Johnson also said the Ukrainians were not concerned about the holdup of U.S. military aid when he met with them on Sept. 5.
"Nobody ever raised the issue of the military funding being withheld," he said. "So, from my standpoint -- and this is -- this is the way I said it to President Zelensky. This is a timing issue. This is the end of the year. There's a pot of money that hasn't been expended...I know Mick Mulvaney and Russ Vought -- they're fiscal conservatives -- go, why are we spending this with three weeks left in the fiscal year? That's another plausible explanation."
However, a number of witnesses told the House intelligence committee that the U.S. military aid was being withheld until the Ukrainians publicly announced that they would investigate corruption, including the alleged 2016 election interference as well as Hunter Biden's position on the board of Burisma, at the same time his father was serving as point man for Ukraine on behalf of President Obama.
"So, it doesn't concern you that Mulvaney is bringing up this quid pro quo?" Tapper asked Johnson.
"Why weren't the Ukrainians asking me about, where's all the support? They never brought that issue (up)," Johnson said.
Tapper pressed him: "But does it really not concern you at all that's been asserted by Gordon Sondland that Mick Mulvaney…was saying, they can't get this military aid or a White House meeting unless they publicly announce these corruption investigations, which are about Burisma and the Bidens? That doesn't concern you at all?" Tapper asked Johnson.
"Well, from my standpoint, I understand that most of President Trump's advisers wanted the military aid released. And they were trying to figure out in some, way, shape or form to convince President Trump to approve that release.
“It's certainly what I was trying to do in my phone call to him on August 31. So I don't have a problem with advisers trying to figure out some way, shape, or form to convince the boss to do this.
“But the relevant question is...what was the president's viewpoint on this? And my testimony is that, when I raised the issue, he vehemently, adamantly and angrily denied that there was any kind of condition to release that. He was concerned about corruption. He was concerned about the fact that Europe doesn't step up to the plate and provide as much support as they really should, because it's in their backyard."
"That's not true! That's not true," Tapper angrily interjected.
"I'm just telling you what I know about my own conversation with President Trump," Johnson said.
Tapper ended the interview on that sour note.