The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democrats challenge credibility of GOP witnesses who embrace false Jan. 6 claims

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Feb. 9. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
8 min

An earlier version of this article erroneously said former FBI official Stephen Friend had not reported to a supervisor one of his concerns related to the use of a SWAT team in arrests related to the Jan. 6, 2021, riots. He said he did tell the supervisor, but he did not mention it in a written declaration, according to a report from Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee. The article has been corrected.

House Republicans vowing to uncover a “weaponization” of the federal government against conservatives have so far called witnesses who have not presented any evidence of wrongdoing at the Justice Department and FBI but have peddled conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to Democrats on the panel who have heard their interviews.

The three witnesses who have participated in transcribed interviews, all former FBI officials, have shown no firsthand evidence of the politically motivated misconduct Republicans say they are investigating. But they have variously promoted dissolving the FBI, cited baseless claims that the Jan. 6 insurrection was planned by Democrats, that rioter Ashli Babbitt was murdered, and made Nazi allusions, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said in a 316-page report released Thursday night. In addition, they said, two of the witnesses were paid and supported by Kash Patel, an ally of former president Donald Trump.

“There is reason to doubt the credibility of these witnesses. 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 report. “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.”

Republicans have pledged to use their House majority to investigate what they say is the politicization of the FBI and Justice Department, bias against conservatives and breach of Americans’ civil liberties. A divided House voted to create the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). At a hearing of the subcommittee last month, Jordan claimed that whistleblowers have alleged an array of wrongdoing by the FBI, including that the agency has manipulated Jan. 6 case files and exaggerated evidence of domestic extremism.

Democrats on the committee say none of the three witnesses whom they’ve heard testify has produced such evidence, nor have committee Republicans produced the many whistleblowers they claim to have identified. Democrats say the investigation is a way to target the Biden administration, promote Trump’s 2024 candidacy for president and “whitewash” the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“The transcribed interviews we have held thus far refute [the] House Republican narrative about ‘bias’ at the Department of Justice,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Del. Stacey E. Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) wrote in the report.

They called on Jordan to schedule the witnesses to testify publicly to allow Americans to judge their credibility, suggesting that Republicans were calling the witnesses whistleblowers so they could shield their testimony — and the investigation — from public scrutiny.

“It is beyond disappointing, but sadly not surprising, that Democrats would leak cherry-picked excerpts of testimony to attack the brave whistleblowers who risked their careers to speak out on abuses at the Justice Department and FBI,” said Russell Dye, a spokesman for Jordan. “It’s clear that Democrats would rather defend bureaucratic abuses than work collaboratively with Republicans to protect fundamental civil liberties.”

Nadler and Plaskett said they were taking the unusual step of publishing interviews in the middle of an investigation because House Republicans had already shared some of the contents with reporters.

“Full context and a reasonable rebuttal are necessary to protect the truth,” they wrote. “We hope it serves to educate the public about how House Republicans have found very few facts to fit their favorite talking points.”

The witnesses — George Hill, Garret O’Boyle and Stephen Friend — all worked for the FBI; Hill and Friend have left the agency, and O’Boyle was suspended, according to the Democrats’ report.

None of the first three witnesses meets the definition of a whistleblower, having presented no evidence of legal violation, mismanagement or abuse, the Democrats’ report said.

They presented only “secondhand claims and hearsay” in their testimony about perceived FBI and Justice Department misconduct, according to the report. Hill has said the government should “kill the king,” meaning dismantle the U.S. intelligence committee, while Friend has said the FBI is “a feckless, garbage institution” that should be eliminated.

The Democrats’ report draws on social media postings and other statements by the witnesses that showed support for unfounded or disproven conspiracy theories, along with their testimony before the panel.

Under questioning, Hill, Friend and O’Boyle all said they were not directly involved in the issues about which they made claims, had heard of the cases secondhand or couldn’t show wrongdoing in the perceived issues that Republicans raised, according to the report. In the case of Friend, who accused the FBI of mismanaging cases of Jan. 6 defendants, his claims were rejected by the independent Justice Department inspector general and Office of Special Counsel.

O’Boyle said he had disclosed information to Republicans but couldn’t share it with the subcommittee because of a legal statute; his lawyer has not responded to multiple requests from the subcommittee to identify the statute, the report said.

One of O’Boyle’s grievances was that FBI employees, like other federal workers, were under a mandate to be vaccinated for covid-19 and that his bosses had asked him to do coronavirus testing, according to the report; he didn’t provide the subcommittee with evidence that he was pressured to get vaccinated when the mandate was not in place. On social media, he had compared people consenting to vaccination with a Nazi battalion that followed orders to conduct mass killings.

Friend, while an FBI case agent in a Florida field office, had objected to a SWAT team being involved in the arrests of five Jan. 6, 2021 riot participants belonging to a militia-type group based on the Three Percenters ideology. He was placed on “absent without leave” for a day, the report said, and resigned in February.

Friend told the subcommittee in his testimony that he had objected because the men had indicated that they would cooperate with the FBI. He said he mentioned it to his supervisor at the time but didn’t include it in a declaration submitted to the inspector general and the Office of Special Counsel, according to the report. He later acknowledged that he hadn’t actually been involved in interviews of the five men, according to the report. He told the subcommittee that the situation met the criteria to justify deploying a SWAT team.

He repeatedly tweeted at House Republicans promoting his claims and asking them on Twitter and use Truth Social to investigate. “@FBI Whistleblowers know where the bodies are buried @JudiciaryGOP,” he tweeted in December. “Prioritize protecting us in 2023 and more will come forward.” At the same time, committee Democrats said, Friend began making media appearances on which he promoted a fundraiser and his book.

Hill, a retired intelligence analyst, has embraced the disproven conspiracy theory that a pro-Trump Jan. 6 rioter named Ray Epps was “planted” by the government to foment the riot and tweeted that the insurrection “was a setup.”

“The #FBI are the Brown Shirt enforcers of the @DNC,” he wrote, referring to the Democratic National Committee and alluding to Nazi soldiers.

The House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6 attack interviewed Epps, an Arizona man who encouraged others to break into the Capitol on Jan. 5 and was seen on the Capitol grounds the day of the attack.

Trump and some Republicans have pushed false claims of antifa involvement or the baseless theory that the FBI had planted agents in the crowd to instigate the violent attack.

In the interview with the committee, Epps denied any involvement with the FBI or any other law enforcement agency. The panel dismissed as “unsupported” the claim that the FBI helped to incite the insurrection.

In the report, the committee Democrats said they concluded that none of the witnesses provided evidence that the FBI was inappropriately handling Jan. 6-related cases or exaggerating domestic extremism statistics.

The Democrats raised questions about the witnesses’ ties to Trump allies. Both O’Boyle and Friend said they had received money from Patel, an attorney who served in the Trump administration. Patel has railed against the “deep state” and was the main author of a 2018 memo accusing the FBI of bias and abuse.

According to the report, Patel arranged for one of Trump’s lawyers to act as O’Boyle’s attorney, promoted a book Friend wrote on social media, and got Friend a job at the Center for Renewing America, an organization run by former Trump administration official Russell Vought.