HomePoliticsGOP witnesses, paid for by Trump Ally, embraced January 6 conspiracy theories

GOP witnesses, paid for by Trump Ally, embraced January 6 conspiracy theories

Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (R-Ohio) listens during a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on the federal government’s armaments at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times )

WASHINGTON — Republicans in the House have promised for months to use their majority to expose an insidious bias against conservatives on the part of the federal government, promising to produce a list of brave whistleblowers who would come forward to provide damning evidence of abuse of law.

But the first three witnesses to privately testify before the House’s new Republican-led committee investigating the federal government’s “weaponization” have little knowledge of the federal government, according to Democrats on the panel who listened to their statements. presented firsthand about any misconduct or violation of the law. bills. Instead, the trio appear to be a group of aggrieved former FBI officials who have dabbled in right-wing conspiracy theories, including the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, and received financial backing from a top ally of former President Donald. Trump.

The list of witnesses, whose interviews and statements are detailed in a 316-page report compiled by Democrats obtained by The New York Times, suggests that Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the panel, has relied on people who do not meet the definition of a whistleblower and have engaged in partisan behavior that questions their credibility. And it raises the question of whether Republicans, who have said investigating the Biden administration is a top goal, will be able to deliver on their ambitious plans to expose wrongdoing at the highest levels.

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“Each endorses an alarming array of conspiracy theories related to the January 6th Capitol bombing, the COVID vaccine, and the validity of the 2020 election,” the Democrats wrote in the footnote-heavy report, which included dozens of testimonies from the witnesses. quotes. “People have repeatedly called for the dismantling of the FBI. Another suggested it would be better for Americans to die than to have some kind of domestic intelligence program.”

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The report also notes that the men have ties to far-right Republican operatives and former Trump administration officials who have an interest in promoting false claims about the January 6 attack and the Biden administration as they work to defend Trump, who is on looking for a second term. .

The document is about three men interviewed by the panel’s investigators: George Hill, a retired FBI supervisory intelligence analyst from the agency’s Boston field office; Stephen Friend, a former special agent who worked at the Daytona Beach, Florida office; and Garret O’Boyle, a special agent from the Wichita, Kansas field office, who has been suspended.

Other potential witnesses for the new subcommittee include FBI employees disciplined for attending protests on Jan. 6, 2021, Jordan said.

Friend, who has resigned from the FBI, is part of a group of former agents placed on furlough who called themselves “the suspended ones.” In a letter sent to FBI director Christopher Wray last year, the group claimed the agency had discriminated against conservative-leaning agents.

Hill has claimed on Twitter that the Jan. 6 attack was a “setup” and that there was “a bigger #Democrat plan using their enforcement arm, the #FBI.” He also described the FBI as “the brown shirt enforcers of the @DNC,” making an obvious reference to Nazi stormtroopers to describe the federal law enforcement agency and its relationship with the Democratic National Committee.

O’Boyle and Friend both testified that they received financial support from Kash Patel, a Trump loyalist and former senior official in the former president’s administration. Friend said Patel sent him $5,000 almost immediately after they connected in November 2022 and that Patel has helped promote Friend’s upcoming book on social media.

In a statement, Patel declined to confirm that he provided financial support to the witnesses, but suggested his organization has focused on helping FBI employees who face retaliation for speaking out publicly.

“Whistleblowers who provide credible information that expose government waste, fraud and abuse play a vital role for constitutional oversight,” he said.

Democrats said they drafted their report after learning that Republicans on the committee planned to leak material from the transcribed interviews. It was written by Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and Representative Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, the top Democrat on the Armaments Subcommittee.

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Russell Dye, a spokesman for Jordan, said Democrats misrepresented the testimony collected to defame officials who had come forward to denounce wrongdoing.

“It is more than disappointing, but sadly not surprising, that the Democrats leaked cherry-picked excerpts of testimony to attack the brave whistleblowers who risk their careers to speak out about abuses at the Justice Department and the FBI,” said Dye. “The same Democrats have vowed to fight tooth and nail against our oversight, and they are willing to undermine the work of Congress to further their partisan goals.”

The Democratic report includes excerpts from statements and evidence of conspiratorial social media posts.

It also details the ties between Trump’s inner circle and the witnesses. For example, Patel found his next job for Friend, as a fellow in the domestic intelligence and security community at the Center for Renewing America, which is headed by Russ Vought. The center is largely funded by the Conservative Partnership Institute, which is led by former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and former South Carolina senator Jim DeMint.

“Based on this evidence, committee Democrats conclude that it is highly likely that Kash Patel is encouraging the witnesses to continue pursuing their meritorious claims, and is in fact using them to advance his vendetta against the FBI, the Justice Department and the government. to propel Biden forward. on behalf of himself and President Trump,” the report said.

Republicans claim they got useful information from the men for their investigation. For example, Hill told the subcommittee that after Jan. 6, the FBI made regular nationwide calls involving all 56 field offices.

Friend is celebrated in conservative circles, with right-wing pundits using his accusations as evidence of FBI wrongdoing. But those claims didn’t seem to hold up during his testimony.

Friend has said he refused to participate in a January 6 SWAT raid of a suspect charged with felony what he called an “excessive use of force” at the time, to which he was a “conscientious objector”. The suspect, Tyler Bensch, was accused of being a member of a right-wing militia group associated with the Three Percenter movement. Documents in Bensch’s case indicate that on January 6, 2021, he posted video of himself outside the Capitol wearing body armor and a gas mask and an AR-15 style rifle.

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Under questioning, the commission said Friend “confirmed that possession of a firearm, even without any additional factors, would in itself be a sufficient factor to warrant the deployment of a SWAT team in an arrest.”

Friend also testified that he was asked to supervise an individual attending a school board meeting, addressing an allegation promoted by Republicans that the administration mistreated conservative parents. But according to the report, Friend admitted during his interview that the man being followed was a Three Percenter under anti-terrorism investigation. He was later arrested along with Bensch and three other individuals.

Friend also engaged in Russian propaganda channels while an FBI employee, the report said, and was widely quoted in an article in Sputnik headlined “Under Biden Federal Agencies Turned Into Instrument of Intimidation, FBI Whistleblower Says,” among others. and appeared for an interview with Russia Today.

The report raised doubts about the relevance of the witness statements. Democrats wrote that nothing in O’Boyle’s testimony “suggests wrongdoing at the FBI” and that Hill had “made multiple allegations about the FBI’s handling of criminal investigations into the January 6th Capitol bombing, despite having very little personal involvement in those investigations”.

The report also said that Hill had espoused a conspiracy theory that an Arizona man named Ray Epps was a federal informant who helped instigate the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Prominent Republicans — including Trump — have widely supported the claim. promoted. which Epps denies and the House of Representatives Jan. 6 committee determined to be baseless.

The witnesses also embraced the language and views of the right wing on other matters. At one point during his testimony, the report said, O’Boyle compared coronavirus vaccine mandates to a World War II Polish reserve police unit that started out as a group of “ordinary people” but ended up being “essentially with genocide, just like the rest of the Nazi regime.”

© 2023 The New York Times Company

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