Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) had a job to do Wednesday afternoon, and darned if he wasn’t going to do it.
Cole joined the lengthy roster of Republican representatives given the opportunity to nominate their party’s candidate for speaker before a vote in the House — a roster on which he might admittedly already appear, given that the Republican conference is well into the double digits on such nominations this year. But given that task, his job was to convince the House broadly, his colleagues specifically and the viewing audience potentially of the preparedness of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for the job.
With that goal in mind, he at one point in his speech hailed the House Judiciary Committee chairman’s moral fortitude.
“He is a person of absolute personal integrity,” Cole said of Jordan. “I’ve never once had to question something that he told me. He’s an honorable man.”
This is a more important testimonial than it might seem. Jordan’s reputation is built to a large extent on his carefully tended bulldog persona, on his apparent willingness to upend dishonesty and to call out bad actors. To cite an admittedly anecdotal example, as I was watching C-SPAN open up the phone lines before Wednesday’s vote, more than one caller indicated that they backed Jordan because they trusted him to dig up dishonesty — including, one suggested, among members of his own party. (This was used to explain why he had failed to secure a majority Tuesday and will presumably be used to explain Wednesday’s similar failure.)
But the past few years have offered plenty of reason for Cole and anyone else to not take Jordan’s assertions at face value. In fact, he has repeatedly made presentations that are obviously false and, on occasion, has repeated those presentations after their falsity has been made publicly obvious.
It was during Donald Trump’s presidency that Jordan really began to lean into the persona that those C-SPAN callers appreciated. He began earning more airtime on Fox News once Trump was inaugurated, eventually outpacing Republican House leadership. When Trump faced his first impeachment in 2019, Jordan served as one of the president’s primary defenders, snapping and yowling at Democrats as he worked energetically to distract from the evidence being presented. By 2020, he had ascended to top positions on congressional committees.
His track record over this period is filled with occasions on which Cole or anyone else might pause before testifying to his credibility.
During that first Trump impeachment, for example, Jordan misrepresented the findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. He made untrue claims about testimony that had been heard. That was clear in real time. Later reporting revealed the extent to which he’d been willing to serve as Trump’s defender rather than someone seeking out the truth, including making false claims to reporters and the public. He was a bulldog, all right, but not one whose claims could be taken at face value.
We can quickly dispatch with Jordan’s well-documented effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election to Trump’s benefit. It is worth noting, though, that he also made false claims aimed at blaming then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the extent of the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Just before the 2022 midterms, Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, offered an accusation against President Biden that was characteristically laced with exaggeration, dishonesty and politics. He and his colleagues presented what they described as a 1,000-page report documenting how the Biden administration had politicized the FBI. The “report” included a few dozen pages of rhetorical allegations — and hundreds of pages of letters the committee had sent requesting more information. Fully 290 pages included nothing but the signatures of legislators on those letters.
Once Republicans took the majority, things didn’t improve. Jordan, for example, joined an accusation against Biden’s 2020 campaign that was undercut by testimony already in his committee’s possession. And then arrived the effort to investigate and potentially impeach Biden.
The effort was led at the outset by House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.), but Jordan quickly began to champion the thin set of allegations against the president. When a former business partner of Biden’s son Hunter offered testimony before congressional investigators, Jordan joined Comer on Fox News to make obviously false insinuations about then-Vice President Biden being summoned to Ukraine to aid his son. This was quickly debunked.
But after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) authorized an impeachment inquiry predicated on those same thin allegations, Jordan began repeatedly offering a punchier version of the same false argument. Now, he said, he could offer the public “four fundamental facts” about Joe Biden’s dubious actions — “facts” that included claims that were not demonstrably true at all. Among them, the claims Jordan had made on Fox News and even, somewhat amazingly, claims about Biden’s actions in Ukraine that mirrored ones Jordan and other Republicans had made in 2019 in their effort to defend Trump from impeachment.
It’s worth quickly noting how time has only further undercut the impeachment probe that Jordan so energetically champions. The first hearing was Sept. 28, at which legislators heard from witnesses who admitted they had no factual claims about wrongdoing to present. There have been no further hearings over the following 20 days and none scheduled.
Compare that with the 2019 effort. The first public hearing took place on Nov. 13, with legislators hearing testimony from two people who spoke about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine. There were subsequent hearings from fact witnesses on Nov. 15, Nov. 19, Nov. 20 and Nov. 21. By Nov. 25, investigators announced that they were moving forward with a final report.
All that took less than two weeks.
By itself, this timeline is an indictment of the inquiry’s — and by extension Jordan’s — seriousness. But there are plenty of other points at which Cole or any American might have been inspired to caution about taking Jordan’s claims as unfailingly true.
Of course, Cole’s job Wednesday was not to give an honest assessment of Jordan, but a compelling one.