Ron Johnson to bring Ken Starr to testify at controversial hearing on 2020 elections

Sen. Ron Johnson has invited former independent counsel Ken Starr and attorneys in key battleground states to testify at a controversial hearing next week where he plans to probe the 2020 election that President-elect Joe Biden won. By Manu Raju, Senior Congressional Correspondent

(CNN) -- Sen. Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has invited former independent counsel Ken Starr and attorneys in key battleground states to testify at a controversial hearing next week where he plans to probe the 2020 election that President-elect Joe Biden won.

The hearing, which has prompted sharp criticism from senators in both parties over concerns that Johnson is peddling in debunked conspiracy theories, is moving ahead despite calls from Democrats that he scrap it.

But Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who has not yet said if he'll run for reelection in 2022, says his hearing is geared at "trying to restore confidence in the system" and says it is he who is "trying to debunk" questions about "suspicious activities" that occurred in the elections. He also says the hearings will help him decide whether to join House Republicans to challenge the electoral results on the floor in January, as he's met with one of those conservatives -- Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan -- to help prepare for next week's hearing.

"If there's an irregularity that can be explained, fine, set that aside because we have to restore confidence in our election system," Johnson told CNN Friday. "And we need to change the laws or enforce laws so this doesn't happen in the future."

Democrats say the hearing is designed to prop up unproven conspiracies that President Donald Trump has pushed since losing the election to Biden, whose victory will be official when the Electoral College votes on Monday. Biden won 306 electoral votes to Trump's 232.

Johnson's hearing is set to occur just two days later.

And one Republican on his committee, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, told CNN that he will "probably not" participate in the hearing.

"We have a process in this country, under the Constitution and our judicial system, which should be followed," Romney, the party's 2012 nominee, said on Friday when asked about the hearing. "The idea of trying to change that process or interrupt it is, in my opinion, a grave mistake."

Johnson insists that is not his goal, saying he and his staff have been "reaching out to everybody who has been researching this" in order to "accumulate all the irregularities that's being publicized or not being publicized," Johnson said.

"And then my next step is, I'm gonna try to debunk it," Johnson said. "I'm going to say, 'OK, so how do you explain this.' Oh, there's a reasonable explanation."

Johnson said that Starr, the former independent counsel who probed Bill Clinton when he was president, will be the "lead witness" and will testify about "warnings they gave us in terms of absentee ballots."

Johnson said he's also invited retired judge Jim Troupis, a GOP attorney representing the Trump campaign in Wisconsin, to testify, along with an attorney in Nevada. He said they are also looking at inviting witnesses from Pennsylvania and Georgia, all states Biden won despite Trump's baseless claims to the contrary.

"It's just a clear violation of Wisconsin election law, what happened there," Johnson said. "Now, what's the remedy going to be?"

But Republicans have failed to successfully challenge the Wisconsin results in court or convince federal judges there have been widespread irregularities across the country that could change the outcome — oftentimes not even presenting evidence of fraud in court.

CNN's live election results

On the floor this week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed Johnson for the hearing, demanding he immediately scrap the proceeding, which he called a "ridiculous charade."

"It's deeply irresponsible that there hasn't been a full-throated defense of the validity of our elections by Republican senators and the Republican leader, who still refuse to call Joe Biden president-elect," Schumer said.

"But to go one step further, and use a Senate committee as a platform to spread misinformation about our own elections -- it's beyond the pale."

Johnson, who argues that's not his intention, met this week with Jordan, a staunch Trump ally who has been sowing doubt about the election, which officials in both parties have said was secure and that no amount of fraudulent activity could change the results.

"We were just talking about what irregularities that we want to highlight prior to our hearing," Johnson said of his meeting with Jordan.

At a joint session of Congress on January 6 to count the electoral votes, House conservatives plan to object to battleground states' election results. While they have no chance of succeeding at overturning the elections, they need the support of at least one senator to prolong debate. Johnson has not ruled out being that senator.

Asked if he would join the House Republicans, Johnson said it depends on what the testimony at next week's hearing shows. "If there's not a good and satisfactory explanation for this, that's a problem."

As he's aligned himself with Trump, Democrats have been eager to challenge him in 2022 if he runs for a third term.

"The election's not over," Johnson said when asked if he would run again, referring to the November election that Biden won. Asked when he would make a decision, Johnson said: "Once the election is over."

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