Exclusive — Mike Johnson’s Top Policy Adviser Is Former Lobbyist: Clients Have Corporate Interest in Ukraine War

Columbia - Johnson
Jose Luis Magana/AP

The inside story of how House Speaker Mike Johnson was flip-flopped on Ukraine aid starts with his top policy adviser, a former lobbyist whose clients include a number of major companies who have issued corporate statements indicating some kind of interest in the war.

Johnson’s policy director, Dan Ziegler, was–until he joined the Speaker’s office as his top policy aide when Johnson won the Speakership last year–a lobbyist with the firm Williams & Jensen. He had previously worked for Johnson in other capacities, but left Johnson to become a lobbyist and accumulated a client list that included several top companies–some of which seem to have a financial interest in seeing Congress pass Ukraine aid. The lobbying firm for which he worked represents a number of top companies. Lobbying disclosures reveal Ziegler represented many of these companies, including several that have made corporate statements about the war in Ukraine or issued press statements or other public guidance saying it could affect their business operations.

What’s more, Ziegler also represented the highly controversial News Media Alliance, which was lobbying Congress when he worked for Williams & Jensen to push a dangerous proposal that would have severely hurt conservative media. That proposal, called the Journalism Competition & Preservation Act (JCPA), has died several times in Congress but has kept coming back to life thanks to lobbyist pressure.

Ziegler is not the only one in Johnson’s inner circle who has issues. Several other staffers working for Johnson  have a series of troubling developments in their backgrounds, and as of now it is unclear if the Speaker himself is aware of all of this or not. Either way, this raises serious questions about his management of the conference and his handling of major legislative proposals like the foreign aid plan before Congress this week–and it undercuts the explanation several Johnson apologists have offered up that he is just having a tough time managing a one-seat majority and things would not be different if he resigned and Republicans picked a new Speaker.

This Breitbart News investigation is the product of research of lobbying disclosures, interviews with a number of highly-connected insiders–most of whom would not speak on record for fear of reprisal–and aggressive questioning of the Speaker’s office and his staff, including questioning of top aides. Here, for the first time, is the inside story of how globalists undercut the America First movement from inside Speaker Johnson’s office, and how the Speaker himself has now authorized them to go scorched earth in attacks against any conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump who seek to hold him accountable and block the four-pronged foreign aid scheme he outlined on Monday evening and introduced on Wednesday. The Speaker intends to set up a Saturday evening vote in the House of Representatives on the plan, which completely abandons border security and instead pushes to funnel tens of billions more U.S. tax dollars to foreign countries like Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. In a string of recent betrayals by the Speaker–the recent government funding plan and last week’s reauthorization of section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) without a requirement for warrants for surveillance on American citizens–this one stings America First conservatives even more. Despite calls for his resignation from top conservative Republicans like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY)–who say they are prepared to vote to remove Johnson by force if necessary–Johnson has tripled down in moving forward on the matter, not just completely ignoring conservatives aligned with former President Donald Trump who are openly criticizing the effort, but authorizing staff and allies like House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) to attack them in order to achieve congressional passage of this radical agenda. McCaul, as Breitbart News reported earlier on Wednesday, launched an unhinged attack on Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) over Ukraine aid. McCaul is one of Johnson’s top allies and quickly endorsed Johnson’s foreign aid framework without even having read the plan because it had not yet been introduced when he publicly backed it. A day later, finally, the Speaker’s office released bill text.

Meet the Men Who Flip-Flopped Johnson

The people behind this plot are a collection of interesting individuals, most of whom the public has never heard of. The Speaker’s top two advisers, Policy Director Dan Ziegler and National Security Adviser Josh Hodges, are per multiple sources familiar with the matter, the top two aides within the Speaker’s office intently pushing him to flip-flop on Ukraine aide. Before Johnson became Speaker, Johnson voted against $47 billion designated to defend Ukraine’s border. “The process for passing this bill is almost as ugly as the substance: written behind closed doors, released Monday overnight, and brought for a vote before anyone could possibly read it—much less debate or amend it,” Johnson said at the time.

He also voted with Greene on an amendment just last year that would have stripped $300 million that went to Ukraine out of the September 2023 Pentagon Appropriations package. So how did Johnson go from opposing even a measly sum like $300 million–and opposing things like the $47 billion at the end of now former House Speaker Pelosi’s term in late 2022–to supporting sending even more than either of those sums, more than $48 billion, to Ukraine? The answer appears to be in who the Speaker surrounded himself with on his paid staff.

Johnson’s tune on Ukraine changed when he became Speaker and hired Ziegler and Hodges, two men who previously worked for Johnson during his tenure as a back-bench representative. On Wednesday, Johnson’s office unveiled a complicated scheme that includes a standalone vote on tens of billions in American taxpayer aid to Ukraine.

  • The process of the vote entails Johnson retracting promises he made to conservatives to win the Speaker’s gavel.
  • The legislation will likely only pass the House if enough Democrats support the measure.

Johnson’s scheme infuriated conservatives and some Republican lawmakers, who accuse Johnson of pushing President Joe Biden’s agenda and advocating for Ukraine’s border instead of America’s southern border.

“I don’t think Ziegler and Hodges are cut out for these roles. And the results speak for themselves,” a source familiar with the inner workings of Johnson’s office told Breitbart News. “Sadly, the Republican Conference and Americans will bear the brunt of their poor counsel.”

“House members should know that these two are at the table making bad calls, both strategically and substantively,” the source added.

Raj Shah, the Speaker’s deputy chief of staff for communications, has not answered a detailed inquiry from Breitbart News about Ziegler and Hodges. Upon receiving questions about them, Shah asked Breitbart News to speak off record on the matter–a request that Breitbart News denied him given the seriousness of these issues and questions. Shah has not provided any on record commentary and has not answered in depth questions about them.

Shah himself is another interesting figure in this whole mix of things. The top press spokesman for Johnson, he previously worked at the Republican National Committee (RNC), then moved into Trump’s White House for some time. In that timeframe, Shah appeared in public sometimes as a White House spokesman and backup option for then Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders–who is now the governor of Arkansas–but then he left the White House and went to work at Fox Corporation alongside now former House Speaker Paul Ryan. Shah’s communications were among those revealed in the legal matter between Fox News and Dominion, in which he was regularly listed as a top official there alongside Ryan.

Shah has emerged as a key enforcer of Johnson’s communications structure, blocking and tackling any criticisms that come at the Speaker from the right. On his account on X–the platform formerly known as Twitter–Shah has in recent days elevated several Never Trump establishment Republicans who have backed Johnson amid criticisms from Greene and Massie among others. Shah has promoted the following messages from people including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox:

Shah also attacked Greene and Massie for calling out Johnson’s transgressions, sending out a Fox News headline that says what the two Republican members of Congress were doing was the “definition of insanity”:

Shah has not answered specifically if Johnson approves of his actions. But asked if Johnson authorized his attacks via social media on GOP members of Congress and elevation of Never Trumpers like Kemp and Cox, Shah told Breitbart News: “We didn’t discuss it if that’s what you’re asking.”

Trump’s history with Kemp is very contentious and widely known, but Cox is perhaps an even worse Never Trumper. Just a couple months ago in mid-February, when Trump had already won the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary just before the South Carolina primary, Cox said it would be a “huge mistake” for Republicans to nominate Trump for president in 2024. Trump would obviously go on to decimate former United States ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in her own state and on Super Tuesday, winning the nomination. But Cox remains adamantly critical of Trump.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the State of the State speech, Thursday, January 11, 2024, in Atlanta. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Asked if he–Shah himself–and Speaker Johnson agree with Cox’s mid-February statement that it would be a “huge mistake” for the GOP to nominate Trump, Shah did not answer either question directly. Shah also would not answer when asked why Speaker Johnson does not have a Truth Social account and whether the Speaker dislikes Trump’s wildly successful social media platform. In response to those questions, Shah just sent a generic statement to Breitbart News: “Speaker Johnson  strongly supports President Trump, endorsed him last year, twice served on his impeachment defense team, and authored the House GOP amicus brief about the 2020 election.”

The Lobbyist Who Became Johnson’s Right Hand Man

Ziegler, a former lobbyist at the firm Williams & Jensen, previously worked for Johnson as the executive director of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) that Johnson chaired from 2019 to 2021. Johnson reportedly “lamented” his departure from RSC, but Ziegler remained one of Johnson’s “closest allies on K Street,” lobbyists told Politico. Ziegler went back to Capitol Hill when Johnson became Speaker last year.

“When Ziegler was at the RSC, he was in an ivory tower. He was in a role where he came up with all these conservative wishlist items, but when the rubber meets the road in negotiations, Ziegler reverted to Republican policies of a bygone era,” the source said.

As a lobbyist, Ziegler’s clients included pharmaceutical corporations, financial services firms, and energy companies, among other powerful interests, according to disclosures available on the website of the Center for Responsive Politics. Several of Ziegler’s former clients seem to have a financial interest in seeing Congress pass Ukraine aid, too.

Drugmaker Amgen, Inc., one of Ziegler’s clients, issued a 2022 statement after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine saying it was halting all non-essential business activity in Russia and that it was continuing its efforts to provide healthcare services in Ukraine.

“We are deeply saddened by the war in Ukraine and condemn the violence and suffering the people of Ukraine are experiencing,” Amgen said in a corporate statement at the time. “The Amgen Foundation has made grants to international agencies supporting humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people. These grants have been amplified by donations from hundreds of Amgen employees that are being matched dollar-for-dollar by the Amgen Foundation. Amgen is also providing additional support to local humanitarian organizations in Eastern Europe.”

Another Ziegler client when he worked as a lobbyist last year was Bloom Energy Corp. Per its website, Bloom Energy provides energy services to many international and American companies, including Lockheed Martin, an arms supplier to the U.S. military. If Congress passes this aid package, Lockheed Martin could very well get more business as a result and providers of essential services to the company like what Bloom Energy does–renewable energy services–could benefit as well. What’s more, several stories from a variety of outlets like Forbes and investor outlet Defiance ETFs have detailed how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has helped companies in Bloom Energy’s field of energy producers as Europe seeks to turn away from Russian natural gas. Both the Forbes piece and Defiance ETFs pieces specifically name Bloom Energy as a company benefitting from the invasion in its stock price. Bloom Energy also notably very recently got $75 million in tax credit funding from the Biden administration for a plant in California.

That’s not all. Ziegler’s client list also included medical services provider Eli Lilly & Co, which regularly has issued corporate statements of support for Ukraine in the war and also donated medicines to the nation while suspending “all activities” in Russia.

Other former Ziegler lobbying clients like Visa, Inc., Vanguard Group, Pfizer, Sanofi, Owens & Minor, Merck, and Blue Cross Blue Shield have issued corporate statements on the war, doing things like cutting off business in Russia, donating profits from Russian business to charity, offering up charitable donations for Ukrainians, and more.

Another one of Ziegler’s former clients, a connectivity and sensors company called TE Connectivity, actually has a warning that the Russia-Ukraine war might affect “forward-looking statements” about the company’s operations in press statements like this December 2023 press release. Among the things listed that the company says are “[e]xamples of factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those described in the forward-looking statements include, among others, the extent, severity and duration of business interruptions” are “natural disasters and political, economic and military instability in countries in which we operate, including continuing military conflict between Russia and Ukraine resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or escalating tensions in surrounding countries; developments in the credit markets.”

Another highly controversial client of Ziegler’s, per the public disclosures, was a group called the News Media Alliance. Williams & Jensen, the broader lobbying firm for which Ziegler worked, is a lobbying outfit that was previously, as Breitbart News reported in 2022, connected to efforts to undercut conservative media through a ploy called the Journalism Competition and Preservative Act (JCPA). The group pushing this was the News Media Alliance, and now it can revealed that Johnson’s top policy adviser was one of the lobbyists for Williams & Jensen pushing this highly controversial proposal. Johnson has not publicly stated where he stands on the JCPA, and it is unclear if Ziegler has had any conversations with the Speaker about this dangerous proposal.

The fact of the matter is these revelations are particularly disturbing and probably will lead to more investigation and more facts to come out in the coming days, weeks, and months ahead. Some sources with knowledge of the matter expect ethics referrals about this in particular, but whether that goes anywhere remains to be seen.

It’s worth noting that among the questions that Shah, on Johnson’s behalf, refused to answer from Breitbart News about this include whether Ziegler filed or received any waivers that allowed him to ethically move from a lobbyist position right into being the Speaker’s top policy aide, and whether or not Johnson himself would stand in the way of any possible forthcoming congressional ethics investigations into these matters from either the Office of Congressional Ethics or the House Ethics Committee if either body decides to investigate. Shah has also refused to answer whether Johnson informed House Republican members of these lobbying connections of his top policy aide.

Ziegler’s Number Two: The Ukraine Whisperer

Josh Hodges, who serves Johnson as his national security adviser but reports to Ziegler in the Speaker’s office, also previously worked for Johnson, from 2017 to 2018. He left Johnson to serve in the Trump administration, where he worked in the intelligence community. Hodges served at the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the United States Agency for International Development, and as a member of the National Security Council as senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Hodges holds a M.A. in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College, and a B.A. in international studies from Louisiana State University.

He reentered Johnson’s orbit as a congressional aide through the Judiciary Committee, a panel of which Johnson was a member before elected Speaker.

Hodges is the brain behind many of the most controversial Johnson policy decisions related to funding foreign wars, FISA, foreign affairs, and national security, a source familiar with the Speaker’s office’s inner workings told Breitbart News. According to Legistorm, Hodges handles Johnson’s armed forces and national security portfolios.

“Mike used to vote differently. What changed? Who’s he talking to now? That’s Ziegler and Hodges,” the source who spoke on condition of anonymity told Breitbart News.

Wendell Husebo is a political reporter with Breitbart News and a former GOP War Room Analyst. He is the author of Politics of Slave Morality. Follow Wendell on “X” @WendellHusebø or on Truth Social @WendellHusebo.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.