The host of one of America’s leading political shows angrily interrupted a Republican senator who ignored his questions and instead embarked on a rant about conspiracy theories known to be close to Donald Trump’s heart.
Mr Johnson, a member of the Senate foreign affairs committee, almost immediately started talking about former FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Mr Strzok was removed from the Mueller inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election after it emerged he had sent messages critical of Mr Trump to Ms Page, with whom he was having an affair.
The president has regularly cited this as evidence that the intelligence communities only investigated his links to Russia because they were politically biased against him.
As Mr Johnson started talking about the pair, Todd interrupted him to say: “OK, senator, I have no idea why a Fox News conspiracy, propaganda stuff, is popping up on here. I have no idea why we are going here.”
Mr Johnson replies: “It is not that. This is exactly why President Trump is upset and why his supporters are upset at the news media.”
As he appears to return to Mr Strzok and Ms Page, saying “Now here’s the deal”, Mr Todd attempts unsuccessfully to steer him back to the question at hand, eventually shouting: “Senator Johnson! Senator Johnson, please! Can we please answer the question that I asked you instead of trying to make Donald Trump feel better here that you’re not criticising him.”
Mr Trump has reacted angrily to any criticism from Republicans. As Meet the Press was going to air he tweeted abusive messages about Mitt Romney, the Utah senator and former Republican presidential candidate, who has admitted disquiet over Mr Trump’s behaviour.
The argument between Mr Todd and Mr Johnson came after a political science expert claimed that Republicans in Congress “all have beef” with the president but are too afraid of him to speak out. “They stick with him to get the judicial appointments, the tax cuts. If he weakens, that fear will subside,” said Cal Jillson, a professor at Southern Methodist University.
The heated exchange on Meet the Press continued with Mr Todd trying to pin down Mr Johnson on whether he trusted the CIA and FBI, both of which have been regular targets for Mr Trump.
At one point he says he doesn’t trust “any of those guys in the Obama administration”. Asked if he trusts the intelligence agencies now, almost three years after Barack Obama left office, he refuses to give a straight answer, eventually asking: “Who do you mean?” and listing individuals who have been criticised by Mr Trump.
He then repeatedly says that he “just wants the truth”, accuses the show of “setting this thing up, totally biased” and says: “We don’t have time to go through all the things I can talk about …. I would never be able to get the truth out.”
Mr Todd then shakes his head and says: “Senator, I don’t know why you just came on here to personally attack the press and avoid answering questions about what happened here. Senator, it’s pretty clear we’re only dealing with the facts that we have, not the facts that you wish them to be.”
Mr Trump is accused of abusing his office by trying to persuade foreign leaders to dig up or even fabricate dirt on his political rivals. He insists he has done nothing wrong and instead is accusing Joe Biden, his potential rival in the 2020 election, of being corrupt, but without so far producing any evidence.
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