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).
Get market news worthy of your time with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free.
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.
The big picture: Former President Trump and his Republican allies have claimed that the investigation by 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 in 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 Va. 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 a statement to news outlets that the school is “grateful to Tim for his outstanding service to our community and disappointed to see it come to an end.”
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 the universities and Miyares did not immediately respond to Axios’ request for comment.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with comment from the University of Virginia and George Mason University.
Like this article? Get more from Axios and subscribe to Axios Markets for free.