Updated Jan 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

  • Both Heaphy and counsel Brian Walther, who was also fired from his George Mason University post by Miyares this week, are Democrats, according to WashPost.

Yes, but: Victoria LaCivita, a spokesperson for Miyares, told AP Sunday that Heaphy's removal from the university post had "nothing" to do with his investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack nor his position with the panel.

  • LaCivita told WashPost it's "common" for a new attorney general to appoint counsel "that shares its 'philosophy and legal approach.'"

The big picture: Former President Trump and his Republican allies have claimed that the investigation by the Jan. 6 House panel, which includes Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), into the insurrection is a Democratic "witch hunt."

What they're saying: Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) told WashPost she's "very concerned" that someone in a position at a university as Heaphy was "would be fired for political reasons."

  • Scott Surovell, a top Democrat in the Virginia State Senate, told the New York Times: "This is purely payback for Jan. 6 — there is no other reason that makes any sense."

The other side: LaCivita told AP that the hiring of Heaphy, who was previously appointed as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia by then-President Obama, was "controversial."

  • She noted that Miyares' Democratic predecessor, Mark Herring, "excluded many qualified internal candidates when he brought in this particular university counsel."
"Our decision was made after reviewing the legal decisions made over the last couple of years. The Attorney General wants the university counsel to return to giving legal advice based on law, and not the philosophy of a university. We plan to look internally first for the next lead counsel."
— LaCivita's comments to AP

For the record: University of Virginia spokesperson Brian Coy said in an emailed statement that the school is "grateful to Tim for his outstanding service to our community and disappointed to see it come to an end."

  • Heaphy said in an emailed statement he's "disappointed" that his time as university counsel has come to an end, but serving in the role "has been a tremendous honor."
  • "As a two-time graduate of the University, the parent of a current student, and a longtime resident of Charlottesville, I love the University and have been privileged to contribute to its aspiration to be both great and good," Heaphy added.
  • George Mason issued a statement to WashPost saying, "The Mason community is grateful to Brian for his work and his many years of service."
  • Representatives for George Mason and Miyares did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Coy, the University of Virginia and George Mason University.

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