This internal CNP directory lists the group's members in July 2012. These included the current Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (listed under his preferred name in those days, "J. Michael Johnson"), conservative activist Ginni Thomas, the now deceased Phyllis Schlafly, Eugene B. Meyer and Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society, and Alan Sears and other leaders from Alliance Defending Freedom.
Before he ran for political office, Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson had a career as a senior lawyer in the religious right movement. This included staff roles with the Alliance Defending Freedom (2002 - 2010), First Liberty Institute (2011 - 2012), and Freedom Guard (2014 - 2018), as well as numerous other board and advisory positions. One role that appears to have been unreported until now is his membership in the secretive Council for National Policy.
Mike Johnson is named as a member in various CNP membership lists from both 2012 and 2013. The membership directories are part of a large number of CNP materials obtained by Documented. The 2012 directories are the earliest we have seen, so it is possible he was a member before that year. Documented has published numerous other CNP directories through to the year 2022. Of these, 2013 was the most recent year to list Johnson as a member.
What is CNP and why does it matter that Johnson was a member?
The New York Times has described CNP as a “little known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.” Members include hundreds of the leaders of right-wing organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and Alliance Defending Freedom, along with major donors on the right including the heads of Donors Trust and the Bradley Foundation.
CNP is highly secretive. According to an internal policy obtained by Documented, members can be kicked out of CNP if they speak publicly about the group. They get together in person three times a year, often at luxury Ritz-Carlton hotels, to discuss, strategize and develop "action steps" for collective action. Johnson's involvement suggests he was already considered a leader by his peers in the movement at that time.
Documented has obtained internal recordings, meeting materials, directories, and other documents from CNP. Numerous stories have resulted from this research. These materials and the resulting stories are revealing about CNP, but other than the newly revealed meeting directories, they are otherwise from an era that appears to be after Johnson was a member.
We have questions about Mike Johnson's relationship with CNP.
When did Johnson first join CNP?
Johnson had roles at both First Liberty Institute (2011 - 2012) and Alliance Defending Freedom (2002 - 2010), both of which have strong ties to CNP. It is possible Johnson's connection to CNP started sooner than 2012, this just happens to be the earliest directory that we have obtained. As noted below, at the time we now know Johnson was a member, CNP was playing a pivotal role in the attacks on the Obama administration and its agenda through the Conservative Action Project.
What did Mike Johnson do during his time as a CNP member?
Did Johnson ever (or frequently) attend the in-person CNP conferences? If he did so, who paid for his travel and accommodation?
Was he ever a speaker at CNP during this time, and if so what did he speak about?
Did he participate in the activities of CNP coordinating right-wing attacks on the Obama administration through the Conservative Action Project (CAP)? Below is a clip about what CAP is.
"It's kind of this little secretive huddle that meets every Wednesday morning." ... "It's basically a little strategy huddle where we focus on off the record, off the record things that are going on in the administration on the Hill each week, and strategic action, that's the thing." ... "I'm privileged to be invited every week because it's you know, it's mostly... it's key folks, representatives from CNP groups."
Did Johnson participate in the Conservative Action Project?
The Conservative Action Project, AKA "CAP," was created by CNP in 2008 to coordinate opposition on the right to the Obama administration. It holds weekly Wednesday morning strategy sessions for CAP members. Later during the Trump administration, these included regular meetings held inside the White House. In 2013, the New York Times revealed the central role CAP played coordinating the well-funded right-wing opposition to the Affordable Care Act. The journalist Lee Fang has written about its work to to block the confirmation of President Obama's judicial nominees. CAP later in 2020 played a role in trying to overturn the election of President Biden.
Johnson was back at CNP on October 4, 2019 as a speaker. By this time he had been elected as a member of Congress, but he hadn't forgotten his roots and lavished praise and gratitude on CNP members Tony Perkins, Kelly Shackelford, Morton Blackwell and Matt Staver, all of whom were in the room, for helping his meteoric rise. He also told a story about a private dinner he had attended the night before with the billionaire donor Charles Koch. Documented obtained a recording of this session, which we first published in October 2020. Journalist Anne Nelson (who literally wrote the book on CNP: Shadow Network) wrote about Johnson's relationship with CNP, and what he said on this recording for the Washington Spectator.
This page will be updated with any future research on this topic.
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