Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, the Republican who House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy originally chose to be the ranking member on the Jan. 6 Select Committee, is accusing Democrats of “intentionally misleading witnesses” about the partisan motivations of those questioning them.
The committee has told witnesses that Republican or bipartisan staff will be present for their interviews, a move that critics say constitutes misrepresentation since there are no Republican minority-appointed members on the committee.
“For the first time, witnesses will be questioned exclusively by partisan staffers working together — even worse, the Select Committee is intentionally misleading witnesses about those staffers’ motivations before they testify under penalty of law,” Banks said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. “Democrats have made a mockery of House rules and of Congressional norms. Liz Cheney should be ashamed for playing along.”
While two Republicans do sit on the committee — Vice Chairwoman Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — they were appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rather than McCarthy, and the committee staff with backgrounds in Republican politics work for the committee as a whole rather than a House Republican conference minority. Pelosi vetoed two of McCarthy’s five picks to sit on the committee, prompting McCarthy to pull his other three appointments in protest unless all five were seated.
The unprecedented dynamic means that the committee says that it is bipartisan. But having no minority-appointed members also creates a gray area when it comes to the committee questioning witnesses for deposition interviews, which House regulations say should be evenly split between the majority and minority.
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This is the latest instance of Republicans pushing back on the legitimacy of the Democratic-controlled committee as it continues its probe, painting it as a purely partisan exercise meant to target political enemies.
But it also exposes problems created by Republicans first rejecting a bipartisan, bicameral commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, and then by McCarthy pulling all his picks from the committee after Pelosi vetoed two of his choices. With no minority-appointed individuals sitting on the committee, they have no access to materials that the committee receives from government agencies or the ability to counter or object to majority questioning in deposition interviews.
Mollie Hemingway of the Federalist reported in November that the committee told witnesses that Republican staff would be present for the interviews, citing multiple eyewitness sources and documents. Specifically, committee staff told witnesses that the Republican in the room would be John Wood, investigative counsel for the committee.
Wood has a long resume in conservative and Republican legal circles, including clerking for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, multiple positions in the George W. Bush administration, and a top position at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But it was both Cheney and Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi who announced his hiring, and his position is for the committee as a whole and not for a nonexistent minority-appointed faction representing the House Republican Conference.
The Washington Examiner confirmed that Jan. 6 committee staff appeared to represent Wood as the Republican counsel to a witness preparing for an interview in at least one instance.
Another source told the Washington Examiner that when the committee staff was asked how both the majority and minority would be represented in a deposition interview as described in the House rules on deposition authority, the staff responded that bipartisan staff would be present in the interview.
Witnesses called to speak to the committee and their counsel likely know that it is controlled solely by Democratic-appointed members. But critics Hemingway and Banks argue that the committee saying that those conducting interviews would include Republican or bipartisan staff crosses the line to saying falsely that they represent the House Republican conference minority and potentially violates the rules of the House regarding deposition authority.
“It’s a lie to call John Wood a Republican congressional staffer. He was hired from outside of Congress to work for Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, and Liz Cheney, who works at the direction of Speaker Pelosi,” Banks said.
In a statement to the Federalist, Banks went as far as to compare the situation to “prosecutorial misconduct.”
Banks and Hemingway suggested that the committee representing Wood as a Republican translates to Cheney representing herself as the ranking member on the committee, a spot that designates the top minority member, rather than her vice chairwoman position, which corresponds to a second-ranking majority member. That criticism is somewhat payback for Cheney revealing on the House floor in October that Banks sent letters to federal agencies requesting information provided to the committee and identifying himself as the committee’s original chosen ranking member.
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The select committee did not comment on this story.
“What do you call a court that only lets the prosecution question witnesses, read transcripts, and decide which transcripts to release? The Select Committee has gone rogue. They’re completely unaccountable, and they’re using their free rein to trample Congress’s norms and Americans’ basic rights,” Banks said.
Thompson and Cheney have said that the committee has “talked with more than 150 individuals who are engaging and cooperating with our probe.” Not all of those are necessarily depositions. It has issued 45 subpoenas and has held former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress over his refusal to cooperate and will vote on doing the same for former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark.