Arizona GOP Chair pleaded the Fifth, Jan. 6 committee attorney says

Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid answering questions from the Jan. 6 select committee, a lawyer for the panel revealed in federal court Tuesday.

“Dr. Ward was deposed by the select committee, and she declined to answer on every substantive question and asserted her rights under the Fifth Amendment,” select committee attorney Eric Columbus said during a court hearing before Arizona-based U.S. District Court Judge Diane Humetewa. Columbus did not say when Ward’s deposition took place, though the select panel’s subpoena instructed her to appear on March 8, 2022.

Columbus revealed Ward’s posture during a hearing on the committee’s attempt to obtain her phone records from cell phone carrier T-Mobile. Ward sued the panel to block T-Mobile from cooperating, but Humetewa recently rejected her effort. Tuesday’s hearing came amid Ward’s effort to ask Humetewa to delay the impact of her ruling while she seeks a review from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

An attorney for Ward declined to comment.

Ward is seeking to block the select committee from obtaining records of her calls between Nov. 3, 2020, and Jan. 20, 2021 — the frenetic final weeks of former President Donald Trump’s term in office as he sought to cling to power. Columbus noted that the panel had received similar records from “hundreds” of other witnesses without incident.

But Ward, a medical doctor, has claimed that the select committee could use the records to identify patients she’s treating for sensitive conditions and also seek to chill Republican activists who had been in touch with her during that tumultuous time.

Ward attorney Laurin Mills told Humetewa that the select committee’s probe could wind up being “worse than the capitol riot” if its work led to the “criminalization of politics.” Humetewa quickly admonished Mills, noting that the select committee has no criminal authority but is pursuing legislative goals. Mills responded by noting the Justice Department’s “parallel investigation” into efforts by allies of Trump to subvert the 2020 election. It’s not entirely surprising some witnesses would choose to avoid testifying to the select panel given the DOJ’s investigation, which the department revealed in January 2022.

Columbus noted that the select committee had no intention to obtain the substance of any texts or calls Ward made during that period — only logs of incoming and outgoing calls and phone numbers, which the panel could then use to determine when key contacts related to the 2020 election occurred.

“There is nothing unique about Dr. Ward here,” Columbus said, adding that it’s unsurprising the panel’s probe touched on political players because it’s an “investigation of a very political event, an attempt to overthrow and subvert an election.”

Humetewa pressed Columbus about why the committee is only now pressing for Ward’s records, after deferring for months. Columbus said the panel had opted to prioritize its resources and timing on other areas of the investigation first.

The select committee subpoenaed Ward in February, seeking her testimony and records about her involvement in Trump’s effort to remain in power. Ward helped assemble a slate of GOP activists to falsely claim to be the state’s certified presidential electors, even though Joe Biden prevailed narrowly in the November 2020 election there. Prosecutors are investigating the effort to send false elector slates to Washington, which was a key element of Trump’s effort to stoke a conflict on Jan. 6, 2021, when Congress met to count electoral votes and certify Biden’s victory.

The select committee has subpoenaed dozens of Republicans who acted as Trump’s electors in states where Biden was the certified winner. It’s unclear how many have cooperated with the panel’s inquiry.

Several dozen other witnesses have asserted their Fifth Amendment rights rather than testifying to the select committee. They include former national security adviser Mike Flynn, Trump confidant Roger Stone, attorney John Eastman and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark.

In addition to her work on the pro-Trump Arizona elector slate — in which she was one of 10 members — Ward joined a December 2020 lawsuit aimed at forcing then-Vice President Mike Pence’s hand ahead of the Jan. 6 session of Congress, when Pence was set to preside over the electoral vote count.

Ward and her fellow false electors have been subpoenaed in the ongoing Justice Department investigation. But Ward indicated in a court filing last week that all 10 of Arizona’s electors challenged the subpoenas and have not heard back from the Justice Department about their objections. DOJ has taken no steps to enforce the subpoenas as well, she noted.

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