House Republican leaders are adding a vocal President Trump supporter who has been involved in the closed-door sessions of the impeachment inquiry to the Intelligence Committee days before public hearings are set to begin.
A senior Republican source said that Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-Ohio) temporary addition to the committee is meant as a complement to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), the ranking minority member.
Some Republicans have privately questioned whether Nunes is prepared for the role, but the person said the move is intended to create the best team to defend Trump, and not meant as a criticism of Nunes.
Nunes did not respond to a request for comment.
Jordan has been an active participant in nearly all of the closed-door depositions taken so far, with him and his chief investigative counsel asking questions throughout the daylong hearings. Jordan has also been one of the most visible defenders of the president to the news media.
Nunes, by contrast, doesn’t speak to most mainstream media outlets and has either not attended the hearings or minimally engaged when he has, according to multiple members who have attended.
Both sides are gearing up for next week’s public hearings. Democrats on Thursday released the transcript of a deposition given by one of the two people set to testify Wednesday, George Kent, a career State Department official whose portfolio includes Ukraine.
During his interview with House investigators, Kent said he was told to “lay low” on Ukraine policy as the president’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and other Trump loyalists opened a rival foreign policy channel to Ukraine.
Jordan, the ranking Republican on the Oversight Committee, and two other outspoken Trump supporters — Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) — were effectively sidelined from the impeachment inquiry by provisions of the Democratic resolution passed last week that set the rules and procedures for the public hearings. The measure narrowed which committees and which representatives can participate in this next phase to the 22 members of the Intelligence Committee.
That left Nunes as the main Trump defender left to square off in public hearings against Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), a former U.S. attorney, when public hearings begin.
Trump allies quickly began urging House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) to add Jordan, Zeldin or Meadows to the Intelligence Committee. McCarthy gets final say over Republican committee assignments, and he had until Tuesday to decide for a change to be made in time for Wednesday’s public hearing.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tweeted Tuesday that McCarthy should replace Republicans on the Intelligence Committee who haven’t participated much, though he didn’t name anyone specifically.
McCarthy “has full discretion to put our most effective questioners on Intel for this matter,” Gaetz tweeted, adding that if he didn’t, “then shame on us for failing @realDonaldTrump.”
Committees have a set number of members, so a Republican had to be removed from the Intelligence Committee in order to add Jordan. Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) stepped down from the committee.
Party leaders understand that the impeachment inquiry is not simply a legal fight; it’s about messaging and positioning as well.
Schiff is comfortable laying out Democrats’ arguments in front of the camera, and is ready for a fight over public opinion. He’s been the public face of the inquiry since it was announced in late September.
Meanwhile, Nunes has appeared on Fox News a few times and done interviews with other conservative outlets while refusing to answer questions from Capitol Hill reporters. For weeks, it has been left to Jordan, Meadows and Zeldin to argue Trump’s case — and explain which witnesses’ testimony matters or doesn’t — to reporters and the American public after nearly every deposition.
“I just want to help our team. I want to help the country see the truth here that President Trump didn’t do anything wrong,” Jordan told Fox News this week.
Nunes was once a little-known, though fairly legislatively effective, back bench member of Congress. In the last three years, he has transformed into a conservative media favorite, especially after his embrace of Trump’s assertions that the investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election was a “deep state” hoax.
McCarthy and Nunes have been close since college, and the minority leader has defended his friend in the past, saying Nunes will play a key role in the impeachment inquiry.
The five transcripts released so far show Nunes has only sporadically attended the closed-door depositions over the last month, and at those he has attended, he asked few questions.
According to the transcripts, Nunes’ questioning has consisted of briefly asking two State Department officials if they were aware that Ukrainians might have provided information for the so-called Steele dossier, a document funded by Democrats that played a role in launching the two-year special counsel investigation into what Trump and his associates knew about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
It spurred a snippy back-and-forth between Schiff and Nunes about the accuracy of Nunes’ questions.
“You can certainly ask the witness whether he’s aware of any allegations,” Schiff said.
“I’ll ask the witness whatever I’d like to ask the witness,” Nunes responded.
“Yes. And the witness will not assume that the predicate of my colleague’s question is an accurate recitation of the fact,” Schiff replied. At that point, Meadows jumped in to defend Nunes.
Neither State Department official’s answer provided new information.
Those same transcripts show Jordan, Meadows and Zeldin asking dozens of probing questions into what each witness knew about the administration holding up military aid to Ukraine in exchange for conducting investigations Trump has pushed for, including whom they spoke to, and other issues more likely to be at the center of the public hearings starting next week.