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Before Congressional hearing on Jan. 6, Mandela Barnes turns Senate campaign focus to Capitol insurrection

Barnes, Military vet Alexander Vindman, say US Sen. Ron Johnson needs to be held accountable for downplaying insurrection

House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack holds a hearing on Capitol Hill
U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, left, and Washington Metropolitan Police Department officer Daniel Hodges listen as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022. Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Before Thursday’s hearing of the U.S. House’s January 6th committee, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes sought to highlight Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s comments downplaying the violent attack on the nation’s Capitol.

Barnes, Wisconsin’s Lt. Gov., held a press conference Thursday ahead of the meeting of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Joining Barnes was former Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a former senior director for European affairs for the U.S. National Security Council. Vindman was removed from his position after he testified in former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial.

Johnson told the Milwaukee Rotary Club last week that the term insurrection was inaccurate because no guns were seized. Police radio traffic that day indicated people on and near the Capitol grounds were armed with pistols and AR-15 rifles. Some evidence presented by the committee Thursday focused on Secret Service communication about guns taken from protesters. He also called the crowds that rallied in Washington before storming the Capitol building “jovial” and “friendly.”

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Barnes also referenced Johnson’s involvement in plans by Republicans to object to certifying the 2020 presidential election confirming Democrat Joe Biden’s win. Johnson withdrew his objections after the insurrection.

Barnes told reporters “democracy is on the ballot” in Wisconsin’s closely-watched Senate race.

“We should all be reminded that Ron Johnson is willing to sacrifice our entire democracy for his own benefit,” Barnes said. “People tried to overthrow the Capitol, overthrow our government, stormed the seat of government because of Ron Johnson inciting that sort of violence.”

Biden won Wisconsin by about 21,000 votes — a similar margin to other recently contested elections in the increasingly polarized swing state.

Vindman, a 20-year Army veteran, said Democrats and Independents are “attuned to the risks to our democracy.”

“They’ve shaken off their complacency about the fact that everything will be OK in America,” Vindman said. “And this is at the top of the agenda. Our democracy and highlighted by what happened on Jan. 6 and the extremism on the right has now put democracy at the top of the agenda.”

An August Marquette Poll found that 70 percent of Democratic respondents had heard or read “a lot” about the Jan. 6 hearings. That’s compared to 53 percent of Republican and Independents who responded. The divide becomes more stark when respondents were asked how much responsibility Trump should bear for the attack. Eighty-nine percent of Democrats said a lot, whereas only 8 percent of Republicans said a lot. Forty-six percent of Independents said Trump should bear a lot of responsibility.

Asked about the comments, Johnson campaign spokesperson Mike Marinella said Barnes was trying to distract voters from other issues, like his support for cutting the prison population and for Biden’s agenda.

“His dangerous policies would make Wisconsin less safe and less prosperous — no wonder he is constantly trying to change the topic,” Marinella said.

Thursday’s press conference comes the day after the Marquette University Law School Poll released numbers that had Johnson ahead by 6 percentage points.

Editor’s note: WPR’s Rich Kremer contributed to this report.