PHOENIX (AP) – Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward refused to answer questions during a deposition of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, a lawyer for the panel revealed Tuesday during a hearing in Phoenix.
Attorney Eric Columbus told a federal judge that Ward asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when she complied with a House committee subpoena.
The details of Ward’s ouster came at a hearing where lawyers urged a federal judge to block the committee from obtaining her phone records while she appeals. U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa handed down the sentence on September 23 that Ward’s arguments that her phone calls should be secret did not pass legal precedent.
Department Attorney Laurin Mills cast the phone records battle as one with major implications for democracy, on par with, if not greater than, the violent riot unfolding at the Capitol.
“This is the first time in American history that a select committee of the United States Congress controlled by one party has subpoenaed the records of the state chairman of the rival party,” Mills said.
He said the outcome will set an important precedent, not just for the current case, but for others to come when Republicans ultimately control Congress.
The House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol is seeking phone records from just before the November 2020 election to January 31, 2021. That would include a period when Ward was pushing to overturn former President Donald Trump’s election defeat and while Congress was set to confirm the results.
Kelli Ward and her husband Michael Ward were president-elects who would have voted for Trump in the Electoral College if he had won Arizona. Both signed a document falsely claiming to be Arizona’s true electors, despite Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the state.
Columbus said investigators get phone records all the time, noting that congressional investigators cannot arrest or charge anyone with a crime. And he noted that Congress does not know everything involved in Ward’s action to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.
“Dr. Ward was impeached by the Select Committee and she refused to answer all substantive questions under her Fifth Amendment rights,” he said. “There are other aspects of her involvement that are not fully understood at this time.”
Ward is hardly the first witness to reject the committee’s questions. Others who have asserted their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination include Trump allies Michael Flynn, Roger Stone and attorney John Eastman. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones also asserted his Fifth Amendment rights.
The committee has spoken with more than 1,000 other witnesses, including many White House aides and several of Trump’s lawyers and confidantes.
But Mills noted at the hearing that a parallel criminal investigation is underway, and in the appeal, her attorneys noted that she and the other 10 fraudulent Arizona voters received grand jury subpoenas from the Justice Department.
“All I can say is that if we get it wrong, we will set a precedent worse than the Capitol riot,” Mills said.
Mills told the judge that the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals has set a briefing schedule and could rule on the case as early as January. Columbus noted that will likely be too late, as the committee dissolves on Jan. 3, when the current session of Congress ends.
The Wards say the subpoena should be quashed because it violates their First Amendment rights, violates House rules and exceeds the committee’s Jan. 6 authority. Humetewa rejected each argument in turn in its earlier decision and is considering their request to block access on appeal.
Kelli Ward is a staunch Trump ally who has aggressively promoted the false claim that the election was stolen from him. In the days after the election, she pushed Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to investigate unsupported claims of fraud before the election results were certified, according to text messages released by the county.
A spokesman for. 6 Committee did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
Associated Press writers Farnoush Amiri and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed from Washington.