The marquee outside the Heart of Fire Church says the Sunday sermon is “Satan accuses/God says you’re not guilty.”
Reporters got a taste of that sermon Tuesday, when State Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Mt. Washington, denied allegations that he molested a 17-year-old girl in 2012 and said he will ignore calls from leaders of his own party to resign from the Kentucky House of Representatives.
“These are unfounded accusations, totally,” Johnson told reporters during a news conference at the church, where he is pastor.
The Republican Party of Kentucky and leaders of the House Republican Caucus called for Johnson to step down Monday after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published a lengthy article saying that Johnson allegedly forcibly kissed, groped and used his finger to penetrate Maranda Richmond, then 17, despite her asking him to stop, on New Year’s Eve 2012.
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After Johnson and 16 of his friends and family sang three verses of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” he blamed the media and “political hacks” for trying to discredit him.
“I think this is an assault on all real people,” Johnson said. “This is an absolute assault on real people. There’s no perfect people. You get into office and all of a sudden, political hacks want to come against you and start accusing you, after you’re in office.”
Johnson said nothing happened between him and Richmond on New Year’s Eve 2012, but he was told that he might have been harsh with his children and Richmond when he told them to go to bed. Johnson confirmed that he sent a Facebook message to Richmond saying he had been drugged that night, but he was vague when asked whether he remembered every aspect of the night Richmond alleges he molested her.
“If I was rough or something on a New Year’s Eve night, that absolutely could have happened,” Johnson said. He denied that he ever touched Richmond.
Johnson said KyCIR’s reporting was supported by funding “that is very partisan” and said his general election opponent from 2016, former State Rep. Linda Belcher, was behind the claims.
Johnson beat Belcher by 156 votes in 2016 and, according to the KyCIR report, Belcher knew about the claims against Johnson during the election.
“There’s clearly no merit to Rep. Johnson’s claim,” said Stephen George, the executive editor of Louisville Public Media, which operates KyCIR. “This story is based on more than 100 interviews and thousands of pages of public documents — all of which is available to the public. Louisville Public Media supports this critical investigative reporting entirely.”
The article was partially financed by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. KyCIR says on its website that it doesn’t accept money from “political parties, political action committees, politicians or others whose donation may affect our independence or public perception of our operations.”
Using a similar defense to Roy Moore, the senate candidate in Alabama who is accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual activity with teenage girls, Johnson said it was his political views that led to the attacks against him. In particular, he mentioned his opposition to abortion, his support for gun rights and his stance against Gov. Matt Bevin’s pension proposal.
These are commonly held positions among Republican members of the Kentucky House of Representatives.
He cited the fact that the Louisville Metro Police Department never interviewed him or charged him with a crime after opening an investigation of Richmond’s claim in 2013.
Johnson also held up a stone, on which he wrote “NPR,” the national news agency affiliated with Louisville Public Media, referencing a line from the Bible that says “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”
“I guarantee no one in here could cast one,” Johnson said.
KyCIR has reported that Richmond has said that Louisville police have reopened their investigation into the case. Louisville police could not immediately be reached Tuesday for comment.
Johnson is the fifth Republican state lawmaker to be accused this year of sexual misconduct. In October, four GOP members of the Kentucky House of Representatives secretly settled a claim of sexual harassment made by a legislative employee. State Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, stepped down as speaker of the House, but he and the other three lawmakers have refused to resign.
One Democrat, state Sen. Julian Carroll, of Frankfort, also has been accused of sexual misconduct this year for allegedly groping a 30-year-old man in 2004.
The Kentucky Democratic Party and Senate Democratic Leadership stripped Carroll of his position as Senate minority whip and have called on him to resign, but he also refused.
The allegations in Kentucky come amid a torrent of sexual harassment accusations nationally, prompting multiple congressmen to resign and the firing of several prominent media personalities.
Johnson said he doesn’t think every woman who has made an allegation of sexual misconduct in recent weeks is lying, but he thinks many of the accusations are politically motivated.
“I think it is the season,” Johnson said about the sexual assault allegations. “Last election it seemed to be racism. This election it seems to be sexual impropriety.”
There are no elections in Kentucky in 2017. In 2016, the Republican Party of Kentucky called on Johnson to withdraw from his campaign for the 49th House District in Bullitt County after after news reports that he posted racist images on his Facebook page.
Johnson, who said he has put in “more hours than probably anyone in Frankfort,” was critical of people calling for his resignation.
“This is something that is totally false,” Johnson said. “There is no reason why I would resign and for anyone that has gotten wobbly in their thoughts, anybody that has gotten wobbly in their standing with me in the political ranks, they need to toughen up a little bit. We’re in a position right now I think as a nation, where I think everyone in public office or public work is at risk of an accusation.”
Tres Watson, communications director for the Republican Party of Kentucky, said the party’s position has not changed on Johnson.
“Following today’s extensively sourced and documented story from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, we once again find ourselves in a position where we must call for him to resign, this time, from the Kentucky General Assembly,” Watson said Monday.
House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster, said House GOP leadership also stands behind its call for Johnson’s resignation.
The KyCIR article also says Johnson was indicted for complicity to commit arson in 1985. Those charges were dismissed in 1987 after he pleaded not guilty and completed a six month pre-trial diversion program.
In 2000, Johnson’s insurance company filed a lawsuit against him after a fire at Heart of Fire Church. No one was charged in the church fire, and the insurance lawsuit was settled.
Johnson denied Tuesday that he has ever committed arson and said he never paid anyone to commit arson.
The article also calls into question some of Johnson’s life story, including claims that he has raised someone from the dead.
As Johnson walked away at the end of the news conference, a reporter asked Johnson whether he had ever raised someone from the dead.
“God has,” Johnson responded.