Cape Elizabeth native plays key role in Congress' Jan. 6 investigation

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Jul. 21—Kristin Amerling has worked for decades behind the scenes in the U.S. Capitol as a staff member and legal counsel for several congressional committees.

But the Cape Elizabeth native is now playing a key role as chief counsel to the congressional committee probing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and the efforts of former President Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

And on Wednesday, she took center stage as the lead prosecution witness to testify in Steve Bannon's trial for ignoring subpoenas signed by Amerling to provide information and testimony about his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

"She didn't realize she was going to be the lead witness," her father, John Amerling Jr., said in a phone interview Thursday. He said he and his wife have read accounts of the testimony and seen courtroom drawings. "We both feel an enormous sense of pride."

During her testimony, Amerling said the committee was seeking information from Bannon about 17 topics, including his communications with Trump and what he knew about efforts to coordinate with right-wing extremists who attacked the Capitol, according to CBS News.

"This information could potentially lead us to other relevant witnesses or other relevant documents," Amerling said in court Wednesday, CBS reported.

The testimony was widely covered by national press and it made Amerling a target in the highly politicized case.

Bannon's attorney tried to raise doubts about her testimony by pointing out she has worked for Democrats and has donated to their causes and candidates in the past. She also was questioned about being in the same book club as one of the prosecutors in the case — a connection that became the headline in some conservative media.

An attempt to reach Kirstin Amerling at her Washington, D.C., office on Thursday was not successful. The committee and its staff were preparing to hold an eighth hearing at 8 p.m. Thursday.

John Amerling, a 78-year-old attorney who splits time between Florida and the Brunswick area, said his daughter seemed destined to do great things from an early age. He described her as a "renaissance woman," excelling as a pianist, athlete (she played tennis and basketball) and scholar.

She was one of 15 high school students named as a Presidential Scholar under Ronald Reagan, allowing the family to visit the White House Rose Garden for a ceremony. She was named "most likely to succeed" and "most studious" her senior year, according to the 1983 high school yearbook. Her senior profile said she was known for asking questions and often saying, "Why are you doing this?," among other things.

Not long after graduating from Harvard University in 1987, she returned home, where she took on the role of Maine press secretary to then-Sen. George Mitchell, who had been a family friend and partner in the law firm her father worked for.

Mitchell spoke to Amerling's skills and integrity in a written statement sent to the Press Herald by a spokesperson for the Mitchell Institute, which provides scholarships to Maine students.

"Kristin Amerling served as a member of my Senate staff," Mitchell said. "She was very hard-working, always well prepared, highly intelligent; overall, an exemplary employee."

Her ascent continued after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, working her way up the ranks as counsel to the House oversight and government reform committees. Her most recent government role was as deputy general counsel for the U.S. Department of Transportation from 2014 to 2016.

Her father said she had been a private consultant when she was tapped to work with the Jan. 6 committee.

"As kids we always want grow up and feel like we're doing something important or significant, but she's at a pivotal point in history," her father said. "She got appointed to that (Jan. 6 committee) position and she's a person of great intelligence and ability and she's been equal to the task."

Amerling and his wife, Joan, who was a longtime consumer reporter for WGME, moved from Maine when their second daughter graduated high school in 1988. They talk to Kristin on a near daily basis, he said, but she is extremely diligent about keeping a tight lid on her work for the committee and often has had to hang up to take other calls. She never tells her parents who those calls are from.

"We are in daily contact with her, but she's always very careful not to say anything," he said. "You have to tolerate a lot of interrupted phone calls."

Testifying at the Bannon trial has brought Kirstin more notoriety — and increased concern from her family. But Amerling said his daughter is up to the task.

"She's not a kid any more, but she's a tough kid," he said with a laugh.

Note: This story was updated July 22 to correct the description of George Mitchell's relationship with John Amerling. Mitchell was a law firm partner and mentor to Amerling.