The Republican staff member charged with questioning impeachment witnesses has served as an investigator in some of the biggest House probes of the last 15 years, including inquiries related to Hurricane Katrina, a gun-tracking operation known as Operation Fast and Furious and the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Castor will help lead the effort as general counsel for the House Oversight and Reform Committee. In contrast with his Democratic counterpart — Daniel S. Goldman, a prosecutor turned television legal analyst — Castor has spent his career avoiding the media spotlight, rising through the ranks over nearly 15 years and seven consecutive chairmanships to become the Oversight panel’s top GOP lawyer.
Castor declined to comment for this report, but a half-dozen former colleagues and bosses praised him as a straight-shooting attorney whose deliberate, low-key style will make him an asset to Republicans amid intense public scrutiny of the impeachment hearings.
“It’s not something he would have asked for,” former Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who left the House in 2017, said of Castor’s moment at center stage. “It’s not in his DNA to ask for something like this. He’s a fairly unassuming guy, but he speaks with authority. . . . He’ll just ask a few simple questions and demonstrate that there’s no there there.”
Another former Oversight chairman, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said Castor will be focused on “making complex things simple” as he presents the GOP’s case that Trump did not withhold military aid for Ukraine to force investigations that would benefit him politically. Issa said he “wouldn’t want to play poker against [Castor]” because he “doesn’t easily give up what he’s thinking.”
“I did ask him — I guess last night — ‘How do you feel about 11 million people watching you on television?’ And he said, ‘I’m going to look at the witness,’ ” Issa said Tuesday.
Castor, 46, was hired by then-Oversight Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) in 2005 after spending roughly four years as a commercial litigator at the Philadelphia and Washington offices of the law firm Blank Rome.
One of his first investigations involved the George W. Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, giving him early experience in investigating a president from his own party. As part of its probe, the GOP-led committee held nine hearings, obtained more than 500,000 pages of documents and released a 569-page final report that was critical of the Bush White House.
Investigations during the Obama administration, such as the probes of the Benghazi attacks and the “Fast and Furious” scandal, were more controversial and politically charged.
Former bosses and colleagues said Castor, described by several as introverted, is an institutionalist who often acted as a bridge between opposing wings of the GOP.
“He’s not a mean guy,” said Davis, who left the House in 2008. “I don’t think he’s a particularly ideological guy. He’s just thorough and effective.”
Issa said Castor avoided political conversations during their decade-long working relationship, despite the explosive fights over policy and strategy between conservative and establishment Republicans on Capitol Hill that took place during that time.
A review of Federal Election Commission records by The Washington Post showed that Castor has never donated to a political campaign.
“I don’t know his politics,” Issa said. “I know he’s a good family man. I know he loves his dog. . . . If he has an ideology or a political bent, we haven’t seen it.”
Castor, 46, will be permitted to question witnesses on Wednesday because he is a staffer shared between the Oversight and Intelligence committees.
The Republican strategy, according to people familiar with GOP preparations for the hearing, will be to highlight ambiguities in the transcript of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and to point out where certain witnesses who learned about events secondhand may have jumped to conclusions about what took place during the broader saga. The people asked spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
William B. Taylor Jr., the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, will testify Wednesday alongside George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian affairs. Taylor’s predecessor, Marie Yovanovitch, is scheduled to testify at a separate hearing on Friday.
Castor described last year what he viewed as “one of the best tools” to use as the minority party on the Oversight panel — “to just demonstrate that the [majority] investigator is not fair-minded and is not willing to keep an open mind.”
“Once an investigator is revealed to be biased, it’s hard to trust the integrity of the process,” he said in December 2018 during an event hosted by the Federalist Society on Capitol Hill that was recorded for a podcast.
Transcripts of closed-door depositions with impeachment witnesses reveal Castor to be a methodical and persistent questioner who sometimes tried to steer witnesses into more controversial territory, such as allegations about former vice president Joe Biden’s family and Ukrainian influence on the 2016 election.
His approach sometimes led to tension or conflict.
During the Oct. 14 deposition of Fiona Hill, the former senior director for Europe and Russia on the National Security Council, Hill said that she was targeted by right-wing media figures who falsely accused her of being part of a conspiracy involving George Soros, the liberal billionaire philanthropist.
Hill’s lawyer, Lee Wolosky, interrupted her to say for the record that “Mr. Castor laughed in response to that question.”
“That is an outrageous — that is outrageous to say that I laughed at that,” Castor said.
“You did laugh, and I want the record to reflect it because this is a very serious matter where people’s lives potentially are in danger,” Wolosky said.
After some additional back-and-forth, Castor said, “Well, that is, you know, an absolutely ridiculous characterization.”
Castor, a Philadelphia-area native, has rarely spoken in public about Trump or his work.
But last year, during a speech to a conference held by Wayne State University Law School, he called Trump a “very different kind of president.”
“Somebody of the president’s personality being president and just — operating on Twitter is just — nobody could have expected that,” he said in the March 2018 speech, which was recorded and posted to YouTube. Calling the size of the 2018 Women’s March in Washington “unbelievable,” he said it was “at a scale that was, you know, equal to or greater than some inaugurations.” As some in the audience laughed, he smiled and said with emphasis, “Inaugurations plural.”
Castor also made a light, indirect joke about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration while speaking about the “intensity” of the political moment.
In addition, Castor took issue with a May 2013 Bloomberg Businessweek headline that described him as a “hidden hand” behind the Oversight Committee. The article stated that “no one in the White House looks forward” to his calls.
“The Obama people — they really didn’t care if I called them or not,” he said. “I very much don’t like making phone calls. . . . I really enjoy not working the phones myself.”