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Ron Johnson suggests, without evidence, FBI had advance knowledge of Jan. 6 riot but did nothing

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, questions Chad Wolf, acting Secretary of Homeland Security, during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Aug. 6, 2020, in Washington D.C. (Toni Sandys-Pool/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson suggested to his constituents at a luncheon on Saturday that the FBI had advance knowledge of the Jan. 6 insurrection but did nothing to thwart it.

Before making the statement, which was captured on video taken at the event, Johnson prefaced it by saying, “I don’t say this publicly.”

“So you think that the FBI had fully infiltrated the militias in Michigan and they didn’t know squat about what’s was happening on Jan. 6 and what’s was happening with these groups,” Johnson told the crowd of constituents gathered around him toward the end of the event.

There is no evidence to support Johnson’s conspiracy claim.

CNN reached out to the Milwaukee County Republican Party and the Wisconsin GOP for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

The Washington Post was first to report the comments.

A spokesperson for Johnson’s office said that his comments were not an insinuation but instead him just raising questions. They did not provide CNN with any direct evidence to support the senator’s suggestion, only citing his outstanding request for the “Norfolk memo.”

The “Norfolk memo” is an FBI intelligence report circulated on Jan. 5, which FBI Director Christopher Wray described in testimony to Congress as “raw, unverified, uncorroborated information” from online posts, which was notable enough for the FBI to share with law enforcement authorities at the Capitol Police and the Washington Metropolitan Police Department.

Johnson has repeatedly spread misinformation to downplay the deadly Capitol riot. In previous comments and interviews, he has repeatedly questioned whether the events of January 6 were really as violent as they appeared and tried to push a false narrative that rioters were not violent or armed.

“We’ve seen plenty of video of people in the Capitol, and they weren’t rioting,” Johnson said during a Fox News interview in June. “It doesn’t look like an armed insurrection when you have people that breach the Capitol — and I don’t condone it — but they’re staying within the rope lines in the Rotunda. That’s not what armed insurrection would look like.”

The latest comments were caught on video by Bridget Kurt, who later confronted Johnson about his downplaying of the coronavirus. Kurt, who is a hospice nurse from Atlanta, said she did not believe that Johnson was aware she had been recording him.

Johnson had been speaking at a Milwaukee GOP event in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, titled: “Getting Informed with Sen. Ron Johnson & Vicki McKenna.” McKenna is a local conservative radio host.

When asked about the comments by CNN, McKenna called Johnson “the most honest man in Congress,” adding that “if people don’t like his (excellent) habit of asking questions, perhaps they should provide more answers — and show their work.”

“Meet with Senator Ron Johnson to discuss the upcoming election in 2022,” an event description reads. “There is a lot at stake for the Republican Party and this nation. Get Senator Johnson’s take on what needs to be done.” Tickets for the event ranged from $19 to $37.

In his comments on Saturday, Johnson did say, “There were a couple hundred really bad actors,” who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 and that he “condemned them immediately.”

However, he went onto say that the media, and fellow Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah as well as GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois were using Jan. 6 in an effort to paint others “with a broad brush” as “domestic terrorists.”