G.O.P. Witnesses, Paid by Trump Ally, Embraced Jan. 6 Conspiracy Theories
WASHINGTON — House Republicans have spent months promising to use their majority to uncover an insidious bias against conservatives on the part of the federal government, vowing to produce a roster of brave whistle-blowers who would come forward to provide damning evidence of abuses aimed at the right.
But the first three witnesses to testify privately before the new Republican-led House committee investigating the “weaponization” of the federal government have offered little firsthand knowledge of any wrongdoing or violation of the law, according to Democrats on the panel who have listened to their accounts. Instead, the trio appears to be a group of aggrieved former F.B.I. officials who have trafficked in right-wing conspiracy theories, including about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the Capitol, and received financial support from a top ally of former President Donald J. Trump.
The roster of witnesses, whose interviews and statements are detailed in a 316-page report compiled by Democrats that was obtained by The New York Times, suggests that Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chairman of the panel, has so far relied on people who do not meet the definition of a whistle-blower and who have engaged in partisan conduct that calls into question their credibility. And it raises questions about whether Republicans, who have said that investigating the Biden administration is a top goal, will be able to deliver on their ambitious plans to uncover misdeeds at the highest levels.
“Each endorses an alarming series of conspiracy theories related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, the Covid vaccine, and the validity of the 2020 election,” Democrats wrote in the heavily footnoted report, which cites scores of statements made by the witnesses. “One has called repeatedly for the dismantling of the F.B.I. Another suggested that it would be better for Americans to die than to have any kind of domestic intelligence program.”
The report also notes that the men are tied to far-right Republican operatives and former Trump administration officials who have an interest in promoting false claims about the Jan. 6 attack and the Biden administration while working to defend Mr. Trump, who is seeking a second term.
Read the document
A report compiled by House Democrats details interviews and statements by the first three witnesses to testify privately before the Republican-led Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
The document centers on three men who have been interviewed by the panel’s investigators: George Hill, a retired F.B.I. supervisory intelligence analyst from the bureau’s Boston field office; Stephen Friend, a former special agent who worked in the Daytona Beach office; and Garret O’Boyle, a special agent from the field office in Wichita, Kan., who has been suspended.
Understand the Events on Jan. 6
Other potential witnesses for the new subcommittee are F.B.I. employees who were disciplined for attending protests on Jan. 6, 2021, according to Mr. Jordan.
Mr. Friend, who resigned from the F.B.I., is part of a group of former agents who were placed on leave and called themselves “the suspendables.” In a letter sent last year to Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, the group claimed that the bureau had discriminated against conservative-leaning agents.
Mr. Hill has claimed on Twitter that the Jan. 6 attack was a “set up,” and that there was “a larger #Democrat plan using their enforcement arm, the #FBI.” He also described the F.B.I. as “the Brown Shirt enforcers of the @DNC,” making an apparent reference to Nazi storm troopers to describe the federal law enforcement agency and its relationship to the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. O’Boyle and Mr. Friend both testified that they had received financial support from Kash Patel, a Trump loyalist and former high-ranking official in the former president’s administration. Mr. Friend said Mr. Patel sent him $5,000 almost immediately after they connected in November 2022 and that Mr. Patel has helped to promote Mr. Friend’s forthcoming book on social media.
In a statement, Mr. Patel declined to confirm that he has provided financial support to the witnesses but suggested that his organization has been focused on helping F.B.I. employees facing retaliation for speaking out publicly.
“Whistle-blowers who provide credible information exposing government waste, fraud, and abuse serve a critical role for constitutional oversight,” he said.
Democrats said they produced their report after they learned that Republicans on the committee were planning 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 Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, the top Democrat on the weaponization subcommittee.
Russell Dye, a spokesman for Mr. Jordan, said that Democrats were misrepresenting the testimony gathered so far to smear public servants who had come forward to expose wrongdoing.
“It is beyond disappointing, but sadly not surprising, that Democrats would leak cherry-picked excerpts of testimony to attack the brave whistle-blowers who risked their careers to speak out on abuses at the Justice Department and F.B.I.,” Mr. Dye said. “These same Democrats vowed to fight our oversight ‘tooth and nail,’ and they are willing to undermine the work of the Congress to achieve their partisan goals.”
The Democratic report includes excerpts from depositions and evidence of conspiratorial social media posts.
It also details the ties between Mr. Trump’s inner circle and the witnesses. For instance, Mr. Patel found Mr. Friend his next job, working as a fellow on domestic intelligence and security services with the Center for Renewing America, which is run by Russ Vought. The center is largely funded by the Conservative Partnership Institute, which is run by Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, and former Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
“Based on this evidence, committee Democrats conclude that there is a strong likelihood that Kash Patel is encouraging the witnesses to continue pursuing their meritless claims, and in fact is using them to help propel his vendetta against the F.B.I., Justice Department, and Biden administration on behalf of himself and President Trump,” the report says.
Republicans argue they received useful information from the men for their investigation. For instance, Mr. Hill told the subcommittee the F.B.I. regularly conducted nationwide calls involving all 56 field offices after Jan. 6. Mr. Hill described the calls as “bordering on hysterical,” according to excerpts from transcripts reviewed by The Times.
Mr. Friend has been celebrated in conservative circles, with right-wing pundits seizing on his accusations as evidence of wrongdoing at the F.B.I. But those claims did not appear to hold up during his testimony.
Mr. Friend has said he refused to take part in a S.W.A.T. raid of a Jan. 6 suspect facing misdemeanor charges, which at the time he called an “excessive use of force,” to which he was a “conscientious objector.” The suspect, Tyler Bensch, was accused of being a member of a right-wing militia group connected to the Three Percenter movement. Documents in Mr. Bensch’s case indicate that on Jan. 6, 2021, he posted a video of himself outside the Capitol wearing body armor and a gas mask and carrying an AR-15-style rifle.
Under questioning, the committee said that Mr. Friend “confirmed that ownership of a firearm, even without any additional factors, in fact would be enough of a factor on its own to justify deploying a S.W.A.T. team in an arrest.”
Mr. Friend also testified about being asked to surveil a person attending a school board meeting, touching on a claim promoted by Republicans that the government mistreated conservative parents. But according to the report, Mr. Friend conceded during his interview that the man being tracked was a Three Percenter who was under counterterrorism investigation. He was later arrested with Mr. Bensch and three other individuals.
Mr. Friend also engaged with Russian propaganda outlets while he was an F.B.I. employee, the report noted, including being quoted extensively in an article in Sputnik headlined “Under Biden Federal Agencies Turned Into Instrument of Intimidation, F.B.I. Whistleblower Says,” and appearing for an interview with Russia Today.
The report cast doubt on the relevance of the witnesses’ accounts. Democrats wrote that nothing in Mr. O’Boyle’s testimony “suggests misconduct at the F.B.I.” and that Mr. Hill had “made multiple claims about the F.B.I.’s handling of criminal investigations into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, despite having very little personal involvement in those investigations.”
The report also said that Mr. Hill had embraced a conspiracy theory that an Arizona man named Ray Epps was a federal informant who helped to instigate the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Prominent Republicans — including Mr. Trump — have widely promoted the claim, which Mr. Epps denies and the House Jan. 6 committee determined to be unfounded.
The witnesses also embraced the language and views of the right wing on other matters. At one point during his testimony, the report said, Mr. O’Boyle compared coronavirus vaccine mandates to a Polish reserve police unit during World War II that began as a group of “just normal people,” but ultimately “were basically engaging in genocide like the rest of the Nazi regime.”
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