Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Sunday accused the whistleblower who filed a complaint regarding President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine of weakening the United States’ relationship with the Eastern European country.
The whistleblower, reportedly a CIA analyst formerly detailed to the White House, has alleged that Trump used military aid as leverage in his efforts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden. His complaint is the subject of the House’s ongoing impeachment inquiry into the president.
But Johnson, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blamed the whistleblower ― not Trump and his alleged pressure campaign ― for any strain on U.S.-Ukraine relations during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“One thing that I want to point out is the damage that’s being done to our country through this entire impeachment process,” Johnson said.
“You know, it’s going to be very difficult for future presidents to have a candid conversation with a world leader because now we’ve set the precedent of leaking transcripts,” he added.
The comment appeared to be a criticism of the whistleblower and his sources, though the White House is the only party that has published a summary, which Trump has incorrectly referred to as a “transcript,” of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“By the way, those individuals that leaked this, if their interest was a stronger relationship with Ukraine, they didn’t accomplish it,” Johnson continued. “Having this all come out into public has weakened that relationship ― has exposed things that didn’t need to be exposed.”
Johnson told CNN earlier this month that he, along with several of Trump’s advisers, had to persuade the president to release the congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine. Trump eventually did so after the White House was made aware of the whistleblower’s complaint.
But the Republican senator suggested Sunday that exposing Trump’s actions is bad for America and should have been dealt with privately.
“This would have been far better off if we had just taken care of this behind the scenes,” Johnson said. “Most people wanted to support Ukraine that were trying to convince President Trump ― and so the whole. ... Listen, if the whistleblower’s goal was to improve our relationship with Ukraine he utterly ― or she utterly ― failed.”
Johnson has said he called Trump in late August to inquire about the delayed U.S. aid to Ukraine and that the president told him he had concerns about the country’s issues with corruption. He also wanted European countries to increase their financial assistance to Ukraine, according to Johnson.
On Sunday, Johnson told NBC that Trump had denied “any kind of arrangement that Ukraine had to do something before he released that funding” during their August phone call.
Johnson said he received a letter Saturday from Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Devin Nunes of California, two Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee, asking him to “lay out” what he knows about the delayed military aid. He said he won’t be called to testify, but will respond to his colleagues’ letter with his account of what happened.
This story has been updated with additional comments from Johnson.