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Four Problems with Jim Jordan’s New Charm Offensive

Not that anybody’s likely to fall for it.
February 6, 2023
Four Problems with Jim Jordan’s New Charm Offensive
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks during the House Republican Conference news conference in the Capitol on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

On Saturday, CNN reported that MAGA Republican Jim Jordan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and its new Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, is working to “boost his credibility.”

The gist was that Jordan, now that he wields a gavel, wants to shed his reputation for bare-knuckled partisanship. His “allies have gone out of their way in recent weeks,” the article notes, to claim that Jordan “wants to take a more methodical approach in turning up the heat on his primary target.”

What are the supposed indicators of his methodical approach? He will be giving Democrats 24-hour notice before he issues subpoenas. And he is making media appearances on networks other than Fox.

Well. If you believe Jim Jordan is capable of transforming himself into a fair and credible master of congressional oversight, I’ve got a Chinese balloon with a few missile holes to sell you.

Here are four reasons why the “new Jim Jordan” is a dog that won’t hunt.

1. Hypocrites aren’t credible.

The guy who refused to comply with a January 6th Committee subpoena now is issuing them and expecting others to do what he wouldn’t.

If credibility is his goal, one almost wishes that it were possible to temporarily reconvene the January 6th Committee just so Jordan can testify. That would help him shed hypocrisy.

Barring that, he could offer to testify under oath to Ohio State University officials about allegations from six former wrestlers who claim that Jordan knew of the sexual abuse or misconduct by an OSU physician when Jordan was an assistant coach on the team.

Don’t hold your breath.

2. He’s playing the press.

In the CNN story, Jordan’s allies attempted to portray him as a reformed partisan; the article cited his appearance “for the first time since 2019” on Meet the Press last weekend. The implication is that this Fox News denizen was confident enough in his beliefs to at long last appear on a show outside his comfort zone, one where he might be challenged.

The same day the CNN article was published, however, Jordan gave a much clearer signal about his relationship with partisan media: His committee essentially boasted of having slipped pre-release copies of new subpoenas exclusively to preferred right-wing outlets so they could have the scoop. The committee republished on its website articles originally published by Fox and Breitbart in which they discussed subpoenas they had been leaked.

Such open right-wing media favoritism tells us what we need to know about Jordan’s unrepentant partisanship.

3. His first subpoenas set up a political stunt.

The subpoenas to which Jordan gave Fox and Breitbart special access raised the curtain on the first act of his partisan play. The subpoenas went to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Jordan claims that sixteen months ago, the Department of Justice chilled parents’ First Amendment rights when Garland sent a memo to U.S. attorneys around the country about the “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.” Journalists had reported on the dangerous upsurge.

Garland’s memo carefully distinguished between constitutionally protected “debate about policy matters” and unlawful threats. Garland wrote that DOJ “is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats . . . and prosecute them when appropriate.”

Where’s the beef? DOJ would be remiss in not addressing illegal threats to elected officials. As for reported parental complaints of having their speech rights at school board meetings muffled, the silence is deafening.

Fact checkers have deemed Jordan’s claims false. Nonetheless, Republicans have seized on the paranoia and anger of MAGA-world parents as a culture-war issue ripe for exploitation. The future hearings Jordan is setting up are his politics as usual.

4. His next “investigation” will also be a partisan stunt.

In the CNN story, Rep. Mike Johnson, vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, described the approach that the supposedly new and improved Jordan would be taking: “This is not,” Johnson said, “a political exercise.”

But elsewhere in the same article, Jordan himself conveyed precisely the opposite message, saying that “he wants to focus on what he believes are the ‘different levels of treatment’ that Biden and Trump received from the DOJ and FBI when the existence of classified documents emerged.”

Of course, there’s a sound justification for differential treatment, and Jordan surely knows it. Biden’s and Trump’s situations are “apples to oranges,” as national security expert Bradley Moss has said. The reason there was no court-ordered search of Biden’s house was that he cooperated and consented to a search.

Trump, by contrast, “hid the documents, denied they were even there, his attorneys misrepresented what was there,” as political scientist Larry Sabato put it. “It’s pretty clear they never would have gotten the documents back had they not sent the FBI in.”

This I can say with certainty as a former prosecutor: Those who cooperate with law enforcement and those who obstruct are subject to “differential levels of treatment.” A “political exercise” is precisely what Jordan’s coming hearings will be. Don’t expect him to be transformed into a judicious congressional investigator any time before the Sumatran tiger at your neighborhood zoo changes its stripes.

Dennis Aftergut

Dennis Aftergut, a former assistant U.S. attorney and former Supreme Court advocate, is currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.