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John Wood officially running for U.S. Senate in Missouri as an independent

John Wood, committee investigative staff counsel, questions the witnesses as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 16, 2022.
Susan Walsh
John Wood, committee investigative staff counsel, questions the witnesses as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 16, 2022.

John Wood, formerly the U.S. Attorney in Kansas City and more recently the senior investigative counsel for the House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack, is running for U.S. Senate in Missouri.

Wood, who identifies as a mainstream Republican, will run as an independent. During a phone interview on Tuesday, Wood said deep political divisions across the United States prompted his candidacy.

“Nowhere is the division in America more evident than in our home state of Missouri, in this senate race where my party, the Republican Party, appears poised to nominate a disgraced former governor who just released an advertisement that seemed to glorify hunting down and shooting political enemies,” Wood said.

Wood’s reference was to Eric Greitens, whose scandals during two years as Missouri governor led to his resignation. And, despite his ex-wife accusing him of abusing her and their children, various polls put Greitens at or near the top of a crowded pack seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat opening up because of Roy Blunt’s forthcoming retirement.

Greitens is competing against Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, U.S. Rep. Billy Long, St. Louis lawyer Mark McCloskey and Missouri Sen. Dave Schatz.

Despite Wood’s misgivings about the direction of the Republican Party in Missouri, he finds no home with the Democrats.

“At the same time, Democrats are going to nominate somebody who would support Chuck Schumer for majority leader and who would support the Biden, Schumer and Pelosi agenda and I think that’s really out of step with the views and values of Missouri voters.”

Top Democratic candidates include U.S. Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, Anheuser-Busch beer heiress Trudy Busch Valentine and St. Louis businessman Spencer Toder.

“I think both parties’ primaries have become races to the bottom to see who can be the most divisive and most extreme and that may appeal to a very small sliver of primary voters but it’s not what the majority of Missouri voters want,” Wood said. “So I want to give them a third option and that is a conservative but someone in the mainstream and will help bring our country back to something resembling normal.”

Wood said he would caucus with the Republican Party if elected to the Senate.

President George W. Bush nominated Wood as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri from 2007 to 2009. Afterwards, Wood went into private law practice with the Hughes, Hubbard & Reed law firm before joining the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as general counsel.

‘It was the right thing to do’

The U.S. House formed a committee last year to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection, an attempt by enthusiasts of former President Donald Trump to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory by storming the U.S. Capitol to stop the electoral vote count. Committee vice chair U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, recruited Wood to serve as senior investigative counsel to the committee.

Wood agreed to the task.

“I certainly didn’t do it with any expectation that I was going to run for office afterwards,” Wood said. “In fact, if I had been thinking about running for office, going to work for the Jan. 6 Committee probably isn’t something that would help me but it was the right thing to do and that’s why I did it.”

Testimony and evidence emerging from the committee’s public hearings are building a case that Trump and some members of his inner circle knew ahead of time of the potential for violence at the Capitol and that several Trump allies participated in the so-called Stop the Steal effort, all while seeking pardons from Trump.

Wood, who left the committee to pursue his senatorial bid, said Tuesday’s testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, “was extremely compelling.”

Hutchinson, under oath, described how Trump became increasingly volatile during the Jan. 6 insurrection, culminating with his attempt to wrest control of the steering wheel of a car driven by a Secret Service agent so Trump could go to the Capitol to be with the rioters.

“(Hutchinson’s testimony) showed how much risk there was to our democracy,” Wood said. “So not just to the rest of the people who were in the Capitol and heroic police officers and national guardsmen who helped protect the Capitol and the people in the Capitol, but more generally to our democracy.”

Asked if the committee has developed enough evidence to suggest that Trump committed any crimes, Wood said it was too early to reach conclusions while the investigation continued.

“But I think it’s something the Department of Justice needs to consider and look into,” Wood said.

He acknowledged his work on a committee that could result in accountability to Trump and others around him for their roles in the insurrection could hurt him politically.

Analysis: Steve Vockrodt talks about this story on 'St. Louis on the Air'

“It might be with some voters and those are the people who are probably going to be most solidly in the Eric Greitens camp anyway,” Wood said. “But I think there are a lot of Trump voters who appreciate the work of the Jan. 6 committee and I as a Republican wanted to get to the bottom of what happened to make sure something like that never happens again.”

The Jan. 6 committee has two Republicans — Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger from Illinois — both of whom have frequently criticized Trump and received censures from the Republican National Committee for participating with the committee.

‘Lean campaign infrastructure’

This is Wood’s first run for political office.

“I think that we’re going to try and appeal to the mainstream, reasonable voters in Missouri who look at what’s going on in the country and in particular in the Missouri Senate race and say, ‘Enough, I don’t want that,’” he said.

He needs to collect 10,000 signatures from Missouri voters to get on the ballot by Aug. 1.

In 2018, Kansas City attorney Craig O’Dear ran as an independent for U.S. Senate, garnering 1.4% of the vote in the general election where Republican Josh Hawley unseated incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill.

The last person to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate under neither the Republican or Democrat parties was Benjamin Gratz Brown, elected in 1863 under the Unconditional Union Party.

Federal Election Commission records on Tuesday showed that Wood had not yet formed a committee.

“I expect it’s going to be a lean campaign infrastructure and really rely on a lot of volunteers and people who are going to see there’s a third option and recognize that that’s the best way for Missouri,” Wood said.

Wood once worked for John Danforth, former U.S. Senator from Missouri.

This week, a political action committee called Missouri Stands United started running television advertisements featuring Danforth calling for an independent candidate in the Senate race.

A research memo by Missouri Stands United tested various messages to Missouri voters and concluded there was an appetite for an independent candidate.

Wood said he consulted with Danforth before launching his candidacy.

“I think this is a unique opportunity for an unaffiliated candidate to get elected,” Wood said. “And I wanted to answer Sen. Danforth’s call for somebody to stand up and take on this challenge because I think it’s really essential for the good of Missouri and the country.”

Based at St. Louis Public Radio, Steve Vockrodt is the Midwest Newsroom’s investigative editor. Follow him on Twitter: @SteveVockrodt.

The Midwest Newsroom is an investigative journalism collaboration including St. Louis Public Radio, KCUR, Iowa Public Radio, Nebraska Public Media and NPR.

Steve Vockrodt is the investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom.