Karl Johnson was Elizabeth Warren’s high school debate partner. According to a prior interview by Johnson, he and Warren were “joined at the hip” for three years:
“We may as well have been joined at the hip for those three years, spending countless days, evenings and weekends together preparing for and attending debate tournaments throughout Oklahoma and elsewhere. “Yet I never tired of working with her – not for an instant – and ever since have measured each subsequent relationship with a professional colleague by my collaboration with Liz,” said Johnson.
I interviewed Johnson late this afternoon, after seeing his name in an article by Paul Rahe regarding Warren’s high school debating. (Rahe says he went to the same high school, although Johnson did not recall Rahe.)
Johnson now is a lawyer in New Mexico specializing in Native American law, and has donated exclusively to Democrats. He indicated he has had little contact with Warren since high school and has not spoken with her in the last six months.
While debate partners, the team was very successful, according to Johnson, winning the Oklahoma state cross-examination championship their senior year. That was the main debate format at the time, according to Johnson, so it was the equivalent of being state champions.
I asked Johnson about Warren’s claim to be Native American. Johnson said that he did not recall Warren ever mentioning it, although he could not rule it out because it has been so long. “I don’t recall it, she might have.”
He then went on to explain how intermarriage was more common at the time in Oklahoma than in other areas and that there are many people in Oklahoma “who have or say they have Indian blood” but are not on offical rolls.
I pressed him on Warren’s specific claim to be Native American. He said he “only knows what’s in the newspapers.” He said he doesn’t remember Warren mentioning it, “might have but don’t recall it.”
Johnson said he knew Warren’s family and had been to her house. He said the subject of her family being Native American “never came up, wouldn’t have talked about” it. He said there was nothing in her home to indicate Native American heritage, although he did not find that surprising.
He also did not recall anything to indicate a family problem because Warren’s mother was Native American, although again he said he would not have expected that to be discussed growing up in the 1950s.
This all stands in contrast to Warren’s very detailed stories about how fundamental her Native American heritage was to her growing up and in her family.
Remember, in 2002 Warren’s adult nephew described the claims to Native American ancestry as being rumor, and her family members always were identified as White even when Native American/American Indian was a clear choice.
It certainly is possible that Warren just decided not to mention anything about being Native American to the person to whom she was “joined at the hip” for three years, even though it was a fundamental part of who she was since she was born.
Voters will have to judge the credibility of Warren’s claim to Native American ancestry, and her stories about family lore, in light of the facts which have come out, and will come out, about how she actually lived her life from people who knew her growing up.
There will be more to follow.