Government

Johnson Confident Congress Can Investigate Election Meddling

SALEM, Ohio – Investigations underway in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate related to alleged links between associates of President Donald Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election will eventually “get to the bottom” of the matter and come to a fully vetted conclusion, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6 Ohio, said Thursday.

And, while Johnson said he’s not opposed to the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as Justice Department special counsel to spearhead a separate investigation into Russian meddling, the congressman says the authority and duty to conduct such inquiries belongs to Congress.

“The real responsibility lies in the legislative branch. That’s what we’re constitutionally required to do,” Johnson said following a tour of a landmark building renovation project downtown. “I’m confident that those investigations will get to the bottom of this.”

Former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired last month, is scheduled to testify before the Senate next week. He is expected to testify about conversations he had with the president and whether Trump attempted to impede the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, and his association with Russian officials.

More important, Johnson said, the special prosecutor should examine the trove of information that appears to be leaking from the White House every week to the media.

“He’s got to look at where these leaks are coming from,” Johnson said. “Where are the leaks between these supposed relationships between the Russians and President Trump’s campaign coming from?”

Johnson said such disclosures are not only providing incorrect information but illegal and endanger U.S. security. “That is destructive to national security and it’s criminal,” he said. “I’m hoping the special prosecutor gets to the bottom of that, too.”

During a press event in Salem, Johnson fielded other questions related to the president’s proposed budget and changes the House approved related to an overhaul of Obamacare.

“I am glad we have a president that understands that we have to bend the spending curve in the opposite direction,” Johnson said of Trump’s budget goals. “There are some things in there to like.”

But the Republican congressman said that he would not simply rubber-stamp a budget that doesn’t take into consideration valuable programs that are important to his district, which follows a 300-mile swath along the Ohio River from Portsmouth to parts of the Mahoning Valley.

Among them is the Appalachian Regional Commission, which Johnson said is a vital asset to this rural, underserved region. The Trump Administration has proposed dismantling the commission and reallocating the funding elsewhere, he said.

“The justification for eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission is based on a 1996 study,” Johnson said, noting the data is 20 years old and flawed.

Last year, for example, the commission directed $174 million toward projects across Appalachia, which was matched by more than $200 million from local communities. This helped leverage additional private investment into the region that exceeded $400 million, he said.

“All total the net benefit – you’re talking over $800 million and thousands of jobs created,” Johnson said. “I’ve made that case to the budget director [Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney] and he’ll make that case to the president.”

Johnson, who sits on the House Budget Committee, expressed confidence it will continue to be funded. “The Appalachian Commission is safe in this year’s budget,” he said. “I’ve talked with my colleagues on the budget committee and it’s not going to have a profound effect when you look at the aggregate.”

By allowing states more discretion in how they spend this money, Johnson said the bulk of the funds would end up in larger metropolitan areas and not in the rural regions where it’s needed the most. “Often, the people here along the Ohio River feel like they’re at the back of everybody’s mind in Columbus and even further in the back of everybody’s mind in Washington,” he said.

The congressman said he’s also encouraged by the rebound of the oil and gas industry in Ohio and is optimistic about the prospects of Belmont County landing Thailand-based PTT Global’s $6 billion ethane cracker plant.

“It’s looking good, but it’s not a done deal,” Johnson remarked.

Two weeks ago, Johnson traveled to Thailand to meet with PTT company officials, Prime Minister Pryut Cahn-o-cha, and the energy minister to get a grasp of that country’s national support for the project, because the Thai government has an interest in the project.

He also said that President Trump is personally interested in the project and has discussed it with the Thai prime minister.

“As you know, Gov. Kasich is very supportive, and I’m doing everything I can to connect the dots and give them every reason in the world to say yes and come to Ohio,” he said.

Late Thursday Johnson issued a statement saying he’s “glad President Trump withdrew the United States from [the Paris Agreement on Climate Change]”

Johnson described the “nonbinding pact as [representative of] an America-second strategy.

“Communities and industries in the East and Southeast that depend on fossil fuels would have been disproportionately harmed,” he said. “Meanwhile, under the same agreement, other countries like China and India are allowed to increase their coal consumption, while here at home we would have handcuffed ourselves for no economic benefit.”

Johnson expressed his support for what he calls the first step in repealing and replacing Obamacare with the House passage of the American Health Care Act early last month.

“We’ve done what we told the American people we were going to do, Johnson stated, “and that is to rescue the nation from the collapse of Obamacare.”

Johnson said that his constituents have complained about being kicked off their insurance programs or finding it difficult to keep their family doctor. Others have been forced onto Medicaid rolls, which has also limited choice for patients.

“The bill that we passed lowers premiums, lowers the deficit, and cuts taxes on the American people,” Johnson said. The most important provision of the bill, he said, is that it provides states with the flexibility to manage their own health insurance markets.

Others disagree. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said May 4 that the GOP’s move to dismantle Obamacare would have a devastating effect on working families across the country, calling it an “absolute betrayal of everything we stand for as Americans.”

The House bill has moved to the Senate, where Johnson said it’s unclear how that chamber will amend measure.

“I can’t even begin to predict what’s going to happen in the Senate,” Johnson continued, “but I can tell you the House has done its job.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.