Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is the Republicans' designated attack dog on the House Judiciary Committee. He's the guy pushing conspiracy theories about the FBI and President Trump. And he's the guy whose push for a second special counsel based on these theories earned a sharp rebuke from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
On Thursday, Jordan again found himself getting shut down by one of the embattled leaders of the Justice Department — this time in somewhat embarrassing fashion.
In a tense exchange, Jordan suggested that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's Russia investigation and has earned Trump's ire, was withholding key information from Congress about the probe. Jordan badgered Rosenstein for several minutes, clearly trying to get under his skin. And it worked, to some degree, with Rosenstein at one point saying, “Your use of this to attack me personally is deeply wrong.”
But then things fell apart for Jordan, and he undermined his own case. He turned to media reports about an alleged threat by Rosenstein to members of Congress. Fox News's Catherine Herridge reported June 12 that Rosenstein had threatened to “ 'subpoena' emails, phone records and other documents from lawmakers and staff on” the GOP-controlled House Intelligence Committee. That's the committee led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that has been doing Trump's bidding in a way that its Senate counterpart simply hasn't, including releasing the “Nunes memo.” Other conservative outlets have run with the claim, but outlets such as CNN and even Sessions have said it didn't happen.
After Rosenstein rebuked Jordan's use of anonymous media reports, Jordan read from a quote that one anonymous House committee staffer gave to Fox.
“This is what they said: 'Having the nation's number one law enforcement officer threaten to subpoena your calls and emails is downright chilling,' ” Jordan said. “Did you threaten to subpoena their calls and emails?”
“No, sir, and there's no way to subpoena phone calls,” Rosenstein said, clearly pleased with himself.
There were audible laughs in the room.
Jordan stumbled for what to say next — “Well, I mean, I'm reading what the press said” — before pressing Rosenstein on what he said. Rosenstein flatly denied that he had ever said it and noted that he was under oath. He challenged the sources who claim he threatened people to also say so under oath.
The subpoena distinction is a technical one, to be sure; while you can subpoena phone records, you can't subpoena phone calls. But Jordan was clearly knocked off his game and for some reason didn't even try to make that distinction. It's also a quote that suggests the staffer didn't exactly know what they were talking about.
And the attempted undermining of the Russia investigation suffered another setback.