A Justice Department official turned whistleblower appeared caught off-guard Wednesday when Republican Rep. Doug Collins pressed him in a House Judiciary Committee hearing about his efforts in 2019 to work for House Democrats during the Trump impeachment saga.
John Elias, a chief of staff to the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general in the antitrust division, reluctantly conceded at the hearing that he sought a position on the Democratic side of the House Judiciary Committee.
Elias was one of three witnesses who accused Attorney General William Barr of abuse of his authority at the Judiciary hearing.
Elias alleged that Barr improperly ordered investigations into mergers of 10 small cannabis companies. He testified that he submitted a complaint to the Justice Department’s inspector general.
During his round of questioning, Collins sought to portray Elias as having political motivations in blowing the whistle on Barr.
The Georgia Republican began his line of questioning by asking Elias if he considers himself to be nonpartisan.
“When I go into the Justice Department every day as a career employee, I leave my politics at home,” Elias said.
“Did you ever attempt to get detailed to this committee’s majority staff?” Collins asked.
Elias appeared unprepared for the question, replying after a brief pause: “I, like people, over time have explored various career options.”
He then told Collins that he had a “very preliminary conversation” with Democrats about a job on the Judiciary panel.
Elias initially told Collins that he wanted to work on antitrust policy. But after a follow-up question, he said that he might have also asked to work on oversight matters during the impeachment probe.
“Did you not ask to be detailed to the committee’s work on oversight during impeachment, is that not correct? Refresh your memory,” Collins said.
“I may have also asked for oversight at one point,” Elias answered.
Elias then said that he sought the position in early 2019.
New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary committee, stepped in to defend Elias.
“Mr. Elias’s political inclinations and job prospects obviously have absolutely no bearing on whether the serious allegations that he is making about the attorney general are true,” he said, appearing to read from a written statement.
He panned Collins’s questions as a “personal attack and a distraction.”
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