Sunday, June 23, 2024

If Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio was the most prominent public face of the congressional effort to fight the results of the 2020 election, his mentee, Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, was a silent but pivotal partner.

Now, Mr. Johnson, 51, is on the cusp of becoming speaker, and new attention is focused on his behind-the-scenes role in attempting to overturn the election results on behalf of former President Donald J. Trump.

A social conservative, Mr. Johnson played a leading role in recruiting House Republicans to sign a legal brief supporting a lawsuit seeking to overturn the 2020 election results.

In December 2020, Mr. Johnson collected signatures for a legal brief in support of a Texas lawsuit attempting throw out the results in four battleground states won by Mr. Biden.

The Supreme Court ultimately rejected the suit, but not before Mr. Johnson convinced more than 60 percent of House Republicans to sign onto the effort. He did so by telling them the initiative had been personally blessed by Mr. Trump, and the former president was “anxiously awaiting” to see who in Congress would step up to the plate to defend him.

A constitutional lawyer, Mr. Johnson also was a key architect of Republicans’ objections to certifying the victory of then President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Jan. 6, 2021. Many Republicans in Congress relied on his arguments.

On the eve of the Jan. 6 votes, he presented colleagues with arguments they could use to oppose the will of the voters without embracing conspiracy theories and the lies of widespread fraud pushed by Mr. Trump. Mr. Johnson instead faulted the way some states had changed voting procedures during the pandemic, saying it was unconstitutional.

After a mob of Mr. Trump’s supporters, believing the election was rigged, stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, injuring about 150 police officers, Mr. Johnson condemned the violence. But he defended the actions of congressional Republicans in objecting to Mr. Biden’s victory.

He wrote a two-page memo of talking points meant to buck up Republicans, and lamented that the violence had almost eclipsed his careful arguments. “Most of the country has also never heard the principled reason,” he wrote.

Over a year later, on “Truth Be Told,” the Christian podcast he hosts with his wife, Kelly, Mr. Johnson continued to argue he and his colleagues had been right to object to the election results:

“The slates of electors were produced by a clearly unconstitutional process, period,” he said.

Mr. Johnson came to Congress in 2017 with support from the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, though he has never joined the group.

In an interview this year, he referred to Mr. Jordan, a co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, as a “very close friend” who “has been a mentor to me since I got here.”

Mr. Johnson said Mr. Jordan called him when he was running for office, because “he knew I was a conservative,” contributed money to his campaign and invited him to Washington for a meeting with him and other Freedom Caucus members.

“He started providing advice to me,” Mr. Johnson said. “So now we’ve become very close.”

In 2020, the two men and their wives traveled to Israel together and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Johnson has also made a close ally of Mr. Trump, and he served on Mr. Trump’s impeachment defense team.

On Nov. 8, 2020, Mr. Johnson was onstage at a northwest Louisiana church speaking about Christianity in America when Mr. Trump called. Mr. Johnson had been in touch with the president’s team on his myriad legal challenges seeking to overturn the results, “to restore the integrity of our election process,” according to a Facebook post by Mr. Johnson recounting the exchange.

“We have to keep fighting for that, Mike,” he said Mr. Trump told him.

“Indeed we do, sir!” Mr. Johnson said he replied.

Karoun Demirjian contributed reporting.

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