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U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, is pictured arriving at (left) and leaving (right) the Senate impeachment hearings on Feb. 11, 2021. (Photos from Getty Images, Associated Press) U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, is pictured arriving at (left) and leaving (right) the Senate impeachment hearings on Feb. 11, 2021. (Photos from Getty Images, Associated Press)

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, is pictured arriving at (left) and leaving (right) the Senate impeachment hearings on Feb. 11, 2021. (Photos from Getty Images, Associated Press)

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke February 16, 2021

Yes, Ron Johnson attended the impeachment hearings

If Your Time is short

  • This claim was based on a (wrong) tweet that was later deleted.

  • The tweet could be seen as referring to Feb. 11 or Feb. 12, but we have photo and video proof Johnson was there both days.

Social media hosted no shortage of debates amid former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment hearing, but a Feb 12, 2021, exchange centering around U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, was particularly unexpected.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, said Johnson was a no-show on what turned out to be the second-last day of the proceedings.

"Hey @SenRonJohnson, were you too busy fighting with YouTube fighting over your crackpot theories on Covid? Do your damn job and show up," Pocan tweeted about 9 a.m., referencing Johnson’s ongoing feud over YouTube removing a video Johnson posted of COVID-related testimony from his Senate committee.

It prompted an expected dose of Twitter outrage, with posters condemning Johnson and saying he shouldn’t be able to vote if he didn’t show up.

But later that day Johnson spokesman Ben Voelkel said that was a lie and told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Patrick Marley that Johnson had been in attendance throughout the trial.

So who’s right?

The background

Pinning down attendance is tricky since the hearing took place in the Senate Chamber, but that wasn’t the only way for senators to watch the proceedings.

The Senate adopted a resolution allowing senators to leave and watch from the upstairs gallery or from an adjacent room by television. So a senator being absent from the floor for a time doesn’t mean they weren’t watching.

Pocan’s assertion that Johnson wasn’t there stemmed from a tweet by author Don Winslow, who has more than 600,000 followers on Twitter. The tweet showed pictures of Johnson and 13 other senators, describing them as "the Senators that chose not to attend the impeachment trial today."  It was retweeted more than 10,000 times before Winslow deleted it sometime Feb. 12.

An archived version of the tweet shows it was posted at 1:37 a.m. central time on Feb. 12. Since Winslow lives in California, that would have been 11:37 p.m. on Feb. 11 — meaning it was likely referencing the Feb. 11 proceedings, which had concluded hours earlier.

This tweet was spreading widely in the middle of the day Feb. 12, so many interpreted it to be referencing Feb. 12, but the Senate proceedings didn’t begin until 11 a.m. central, about 10 hours after this tweet was sent.

Featured Fact-check

We’ll examine both days.

Johnson seen in and around chamber

In an email to PolitiFact the evening of Feb. 12, Voelkel said his understanding is that Johnson "has been there the entire time."

But we don’t have to take his word for it.

Johnson was obviously at the hearings Feb. 12. As noted, it’s not possible to prove his location at every moment in the day, but CSPAN video shows Johnson in his assigned seat (back row on the left, fourth from the left as viewed from the front of the room) during a standing ovation for Capitol police officers’ work Jan. 6. In addition, Getty Images captured a picture of him during a recess in the proceedings, USA TODAY captured a photo of him after the day’s session ended and CNN posted an update at 1:30 p.m. with Johnson commenting on the day’s proceedings.

Various news organizations also captured images of Johnson in the Capitol around the Feb. 11 hearings: Getty has a picture of him arriving at the beginning, and the Associated Press took a photo of him leaving at the end. CNN reported Feb. 11 at least 15 empty desks on the Republican side at one point, though, as noted, those senators could have been watching from other locations, and the online report didn’t list the senators missing.

Pocan’s office provided no evidence that Johnson was absent either day. 

Spokesman Usamah Andrabi said the office has "first-hand reports of him being out of the room at times," but with viewing setup from multiple locations that doesn’t prove this claim. Andrabi also asserted the "focus" of the tweet was on Johnson’s COVID conspiracy theories, though that doesn’t ring true given the post was a quote retweet of a claim about Johnson’s attendance.

Our ruling

Pocan told Johnson to "do your damn job and show up," retweeting a claim that Johnson wasn’t present for that day’s impeachment proceedings.

The timeline is a bit odd here, since the tweet that spurred this discussion likely was referencing Feb. 11, but it was being shared and debated in many cases as if it referenced to Feb. 12. In either case the now-deleted tweet was wrong about Johnson.

We don’t know what Johnson was doing every moment of every day, but we have photographic proof he was at the Capitol for the Feb. 11 and Feb. 12 impeachment hearings. That makes a claim he didn’t "show up" absurd. Pocan’s office provided no convincing evidence to the contrary.

So we have a claim based on a deleted tweet that conflicts with an array of photographic and other documented evidence. That’s false and ridiculous. 

Or as we call it, Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Mark Pocan, tweet, Feb. 12, 2021

Ben Voelkel, tweet, Feb. 12, 2021

Patrick Marley, tweet, Feb. 12, 2021

Don Winslow, archive of deleted tweet, originally posted Feb. 12, 2021

Email exchange with Ben Voelkel, spokesman for Ron Johnson, Feb. 16, 2021

Email exchange with Usamah Andrabi, spokesman for Mark Pocan, Feb. 16, 2021

CSPAN, User Clip: U.S. Senate Chamber on Feb. 12, 2021, Feb. 12, 2021

U.S. Senate, Senate Chamber Desks, accessed Feb. 15, 2021

Getty Images, picture of Ron Johnson, Feb. 12, 2021

USA TODAY, picture of Ron Johnson, Feb. 12, 2021

Getty Images, picture of Ron Johnson, Feb. 11, 2021

Associated Press, picture of Ron Johnson, Feb. 11, 2021

CNN, Trump’s second impeachment trial: Day 4, Feb. 12, 2021

CNN, Inside the Senate chamber: Sketches of senators and empty desks during Day 3 of the impeachment trial, Feb. 12, 2021

New York Times, A Tour of Don Winslow’s Ranch in Southern California, July 13, 2017

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More by Eric Litke

Yes, Ron Johnson attended the impeachment hearings

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