Politics

Confidence Man

Jim Jordan boldly constructed a Trump-friendly alternate reality.

Jim Jordan seated behind a desk.
Jim Jordan questions Bill Taylor during the first public impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Saul Loeb—Pool/Getty Images

After the first public impeachment hearing wrapped up Wednesday afternoon, the respective leaders of both parties on the House Intelligence Committee held press conferences in a hallway outside the hearing room. For the Democrats, that meant Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee chairman, who has been a member of Intelligence since 2008. For the Republicans, it meant Rep. Jim Jordan, a longtime thorn in Republican leaders’ sides who’s only served on the Intelligence Committee since the end of last week.

What Jordan may have lacked in experience, he made up for in self-confidence. “I think this is a sad day for the country,” Jordan said at the mics, surrounded by some members of the committee, accompanied by stray attention-seeking friends like Reps. Mark Meadows and Matt Gaetz, “but frankly a good day for the facts, and a good day for the president of the United States.” Rep. Devin Nunes, the titular ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, was nowhere to be seen.

Wednesday’s hearing made clear that Jordan—the jacketless, troublemaking, archconservative Ohio representative and former college wrestling coach who denies any knowledge of his team’s molestation scandal—will be the face of Republicans’ defense of President Donald Trump during the public phase of the inquiry. He is running the show.

It was Jordan’s staff attorney from the Oversight and Reform Committee, on which Jordan is ranking member, to whom Nunes yielded most of his 45 minutes of initial questioning. The instant that Nunes was allowed to yield his time to another member, once the round of five-minute question periods began, he yielded that time to Jordan. Several other Republican members followed suit. Jordan delivered what was effectively Republicans’ closing argument, while Nunes, as he did for most of the hearing, sat motionless, his perma-scowl looking off in the distance.

It wasn’t just that Jordan dominated the party’s screen time, either. He was constantly in motion, serving as the free safety in Republicans’ defense scheme. He would walk over to other members and whisper things—arguments? plots? traps?—without end. He would leave the hearing room and return with file folders, distributing the contents to other members with an air of mischief. He couldn’t even sit still, smiling and rocking in his chair during the rare moments when he had nothing else to do.

As a questioner, Jordan speaks quickly and aggressively, and he will shake his head in a practiced disbelief when witnesses either can’t understand, or can’t believe, what he’s saying. When questioning Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine who served up some of the most damning testimony against the president, Jordan read a sentence from European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s sworn testimony.

“ ‘Ambassador Taylor recalls that Mr. Morrison told Ambassador Taylor that I told Mr. Morrison that I conveyed this message to Mr. Yermak on Sept. 1, 2019, in connection with Vice President Pence’s visit to Warsaw and a meeting with President Zelensky,’ ” Jordan read several times, each a tick faster than the previous. “We’ve got six people having four conversations in one sentence, and you just told me this is where you got your ‘clear understanding’ that the president had linked security assistance to investigations.

“This is what I can’t believe,” Jordan said. “And you’re [the Democrats’] star witness! You’re their first witness. Based on this. I’ve seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this.”

When Taylor objected to his “star witness” label, saying he did not consider himself such, Jordan observed that while he may not, “they”—the Democrats—“do.” (He wasn’t wrong about that.)

Jordan has an ability to discover a framing that might sound exculpatory of the president, even if it’s very much not, and committing to it with the entirety of his soul. When he observes that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky didn’t discuss feeling any pressure in any of the three meetings he had with Taylor, he treats this as proof that there was never any plot to pressure Ukraine. Basic background facts about the extortion case—that after the existence of the whistleblower complaint became known, the Trump administration released the Ukrainian security aid it had been withholding, and the Ukrainian president canceled his plan to announce investigations in a CNN interview—are brandished as if they’re exculpatory evidence that the plot could never have existed in the first place.

Jordan is able, in tones of absolute conviction, to offer the following explanation for what happened this summer:

When it came time to check out this new guy [Zelensky], President Trump said, “Let’s just see, let’s just see if he’s legit.” So for 55 days, we checked him out. President Zelensky had five interactions with senior U.S. officials in that time frame. One was, of course, the phone call, the July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky, and there were four others with U.S. officials. And guess what? Not one of those interactions, not one, were security assistance dollars linked to investigating Burisma or Biden. But guess what did happen in those 55 days? U.S. senators, Ambassador [John] Bolton, Vice President Pence, all became convinced that Zelensky was, in fact, worth the risk. He was, in fact, legit and the real deal and a real change. And guess what? They told the president, “He’s a reformer. Release the money.” And that’s exactly what President Trump did.

Jim Jordan is the face of the president’s defense because he can say something like that—that Donald Trump, despite what you may have heard, just wanted to know if Zelensky was “legit”—without flinching. When the words aren’t convincing, you might as well put them in the mouth of the person who looks convinced.