Congressional Oversight: A Conversation with Jim Jordan

Wednesday, June 12, 2019
Leah Millis/Reuters
Speaker
Jim Jordan

U.S. Representative from Ohio (R); Ranking Member, House Oversight and Reform Committee 

Presider
Jerry Seib

Executive Washington Editor and Chief Commentator, Wall Street Journal

Representative Jim Jordan discusses the political challenges facing Congress and his role as ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

SEIB: (In progress)—Council on Foreign Relations meeting with Congressman Jim Jordan. I’m Jerry Seib, executive Washington editor of the Wall Street Journal, and I’ll be presiding over the conversation.

We’re going to be talking about congressional oversight. Congressman Jordan is ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, also a member of the House Judiciary Committee, two very boring assignments these days. (Laughter.)

JORDAN: Two committees where there’s always a fight, right?

SEIB: Exactly, exactly. And as we were discussing backstage, it’s interesting because this is not normally a sexy topic, congressional oversight, but it’s become very much an important topic and a divisive one. And I guess to start the conversation, it occurred to me that to outside observers it seems fair to say that the oversight system seems broken, it’s partisan, it’s polarized. Your party says the Democrats are getting carried with inquiries on Michael Cohen and the 2016 presidential election, voter suppression. And Democrats say your side got carried away with Benghazi hearings, two years of those, that was overkill.

Let’s start by my asking you to step back and just talk about, what is your view of what the proper role of congressional oversight really is? What should it be and what should it not be?

JORDAN: It should be holding the—first of all, thanks for having me, I appreciate it. It should be holding agencies accountable. There’s been a lot of taxpayer dollars. You know, if they do something wrong, if they—if they’re spending that money in an inappropriate fashion or if there’s some action that is just not right, then that’s when you have hearings, that’s when you do investigations, that’s when you may have to get the inspector general of the various agencies involved. But it should be agency focused, not focused on whoever may be in the White House, but it should be what actually took place in the agencies.

I like to think we actually made that distinction when we were in charge. I’ve been on the Oversight Committee now for eleven years, I guess. I think we looked at problems at respective agencies, whether it was go clear back to remember the loan guarantee program at the Department of Energy. This was Solyndra, Beacon Power, Abound Solar, Fisker Automotive—twenty-some companies got your tax dollars, got American tax dollars. I think the credit rating, the average credit rating was BB- and a bunch of them went bankrupt, almost all of them went bankrupt.

So looking at certain things that are happening in the agencies, that should be the focus versus, I would argue, it seems to me, the Democrats’ focus is all on one person, and that, of course, is the president of the United States.

SEIB: And you would prefer to see an oversight system that was more selective, but also more targeted and not focused on the White House, more focused on the parts of the government where things actually happen?

JORDAN: Yes. I mean—I mean, when I really—the first big, I would say, kind of, quote, “scandal-like” thing was when we saw what was going on in the Department of Energy. And then that was followed up by what would be now eight years ago we had a—actually, it came up in our district, Shelby County, Ohio, a county I’ve had the privilege of representing for twenty-some years now, twenty-four years, in either the state house, state senate, or here in Congress, they came to me, a local conservative group in that county, and said, Congressman, we think we’re getting harassed by the IRS. I’m, like, OK, tell us about it. Well, they’re asking all these questions, we’re applying for this tax-exempt status, we can’t get it. We said we’ll check it out and we literally did. We had—some of the guys are with me today. We had some of our personal staff, some of the Oversight Staff actually met with Lois Lerner and folks from the IRS. And Lois Lerner told us we’re not doing anything different than we normally do, everything is fine.

And frankly, half the staff believed her and the other half said, oh, we don’t know. So we asked the inspector general to do an investigation. And shazam, a year later, the inspector general comes back and said they were targeting people, conservative groups around the country. And it all started with little old Shelby County—Sidney, Ohio—coming to our office. So that is the proper role of oversight.

That was not about President Obama. That was about an IRS that was systematically and for a sustained period of time violating people’s First Amendment liberties, going after people for their political beliefs.

SEIB: So in that construct, how should Congress approach something like Russian interference in the 2016 election? What’s the proper way for—I mean, certainly, I doubt you’re advocating ignoring the problem.

JORDAN: No, of course not.

SEIB: What’s the proper way of addressing it?

JORDAN: Well, we could—we could have—you know, you could do the typical hearings that we have in Congress. Obviously, we’ve had the Senate Intel Committee has done an investigation, the House Intel Committee has done an investigation. Bob Mueller has done an investigation. We were doing an investigation in the Oversight and Judiciary, a task force put together last Congress, members from both of those committees. So there’s been lots of investigations into that and every single one of them has reached the conclusion there was no collusion, conspiracy, or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to impact the election.

But we should obviously continue to do oversight. Foreign governments trying to impact our election process is wrong, it’s scary, it’s dangerous, and we should—we should do that kind of oversight. But every investigation done thus far has reached the same conclusion.

SEIB: But do you—let’s separate the two ideas. Collusion, OK, put that aside, you still have the problem of Russian interference, which is a legitimate problem and ought to be—ought to be pursued. And do you have a problem with the Oversight Committee being part of that process?

JORDAN: Not at all. Not at all. I mean, we—I’m happy. I think any committee that looks at it, whether it’s the Oversight Committee, whether it’s the intel committees, that’s fine. But frankly, right now, that’s not my call, that’s Elijah Cummings’s call and Adam Schiff’s call and anyone else, any of the other kind of key chairman.

SEIB: So let’s talk a little bit about why the process has become partisan and polarized. And I don’t think you would probably dispute that characterization of the process now.

If you think about your time in Congress and you think about the role of Congress as an oversight mechanism, what do you think has happened to make it into a process that feels as if it’s part of the overall polarization of this town?

JORDAN: I guess I would say what I said before. I think—and again, you can—this is what you asked me about, how we deal with partisan—I’m going to talk about I think it’s gotten too partisan from the Democrats’ perspective and too personally focused. I do think when we were in charge we focused on the problems at respective agencies—Department of Energy, IRS. ATF, when they let guns walk and Brian Terry was killed with one of those, we focused on that. FBI, we focused on what went wrong there.

But now you look at what the Democrats are doing now that they’re in charge, it is a singular focus on the president. I mean, they have—I’ve never seen this in my time in Congress—they have memorandums of understanding between the respective chairmen. I’ve seen the one between Ms. Waters and Mr. Cummings. And it basically lays out here’s how we’re going to go about it, here’s how we’re going to work together, here’s how we’re going to coordinate our effort to go after not an agency, but the president of the United States.

So I do think the Democrats have made it personal going after the president. That is a problem. If you focus on the agency and the wrongdoing there, I think you’re much better off.

SEIB: But let me challenge you on that a little bit because I mentioned Benghazi at the beginning and Democrats, you know—for every sin in this town, it turns out that the other side thinks there’s a prior sin. They point to Benghazi—two years of hearings, special committee, two appearances by Hillary Clinton, one stretching for eight hours.

JORDAN: I was in that one.

SEIB: You were there. It was a long day as I recall.

JORDAN: It was a long day.

SEIB: At the end of which not really a very conclusive outcome. And Kevin McCarthy—

JORDAN: I’d disagree with that, but go ahead.

SEIB: OK. Well, let me finish and then you can take me on.

JORDAN: Sure. (Laughter.)

SEIB: At the end of it, Kevin McCarthy, the second-ranking Republican in the House at that time, famously says, well, you’ve got to remember, before—here’s the quote: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s unstable, but no one would have known that happened had we not fought.” Made it sound like that was a partisan exercise.

JORDAN: Yeah. It wasn’t for me. For me, it was real simple. You had four brave Americans give their life for their country on September 11, 2012. And you had an administration tell the American people something that was not accurate, plain and simple. And we know that was the case. If you go back and watch that eight-hour hearing, you can—there were—my first ten minutes, I focused on that single issue.

At 10:08 that night, while Tyrone Woods is on the roof of the annex fighting for his life, our government sends out a statement that says some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet—blaming a video while the fight is still going on. And we know that that was not accurate because the very next day she talks with the Egyptian prime minister and she says the video had nothing to do with it, it was a planned attack, not a protest.

So she knew, the State Department knew what the catalyst for this tragedy was, but that’s not what they communicated to the American people. And you cannot have your government misinforming, not being—not being square with the taxpayers. So for me, that’s what this was about.

And there’s a reason why Mr. Pompeo and I wrote a second—wrote a separate report, to highlight that. And I would argue, asking yourself, what would be the—what would be the motive? Why would they not just be square with the American people? Because they were fifty-six days before an election.

And remember the context. The context was GM is alive, bin Laden is dead. There hadn’t been a major terrorist attack. And to the credit of the Obama administration there hadn’t been, but there was fifty-six days before an election and they didn’t want that, they didn’t want that narrative to be known to the American people. Also that, to me, is wrong. That is not supposed to happen in our great country.

So for me, that was the motivation. Nothing to do with politics. The only politics I saw was the politics they were playing because it was so, so close to an election they couldn’t be—they felt they couldn’t be square with the American people.

SEIB: So let’s talk, let’s go forward-looking a little bit here and talk about what should happen if this is to be done right, and let’s start with your committee, the Oversight Committee itself. Talk a little bit about your relationship with the chairman, Congressman Cummings.

If you watch hearings publicly, it seems to be pretty rancorous. Do you guys have the ability to work together? Can you work together? And one what can you work together?

JORDAN: If you watched a hearing last week, last week or two weeks ago, maybe the last couple of weeks, we’re looking at—the short answer is yes. I mean, we’re going to go today and have a fight, I think, because they’re going to—they’re going to hold Mr. Barr and Secretary Ross in contempt. So I think there will be a fight about that here in an hour-and-a-half.

But on facial recognition, on civil liberties, this is where we can come together. And I think there is strong bipartisan support on the committee to look at this and work together. So there’s certain issues, yes.

I think, in a general sense, I respect Elijah. I like anyone who believes something and fights for it, even if I think they’re wrong and they think I’m wrong, I think they’re wrong, but they believe it passionately, they’re representing their constituents like I’m supposed to represent the folks I get the privilege of representing. So I like that.

I always tell folks, one of my good friends when he was here—in fact, I had coffee with him a few months back back in Cleveland—is Dennis Kucinich. And, like, you know, Kucinich is, like, crazy, right, you know? (Laughter.) And he thinks I’m crazy. But Dennis is a good guy. And we work together. We were on the Oversight Committee. So when I first came, we were in the minority and he was ranking member on the subcommittee—or chairman of the subcommittee and I was ranking member and then we flipped, and we worked together. And typically, it revolved around civil liberties. So that’s where I try to find common ground and have been able to.

Mr. Raskin and I had a—Jamie came up to me last Congress and said he wanted to introduce the SHIELD Act, basically says to people in the press if the FBI comes knocking on your door you don’t have to give away your confidential sources. And I said sure. In fact, Vice President Pence had sponsored this bill seven, eight, nine—I don’t know, a while back. And I said sure. So that’s where I try to find common ground, where it’s protecting the fundamental liberties that we enjoy as Americans.

But when I think an agency has violated that, then I’m going to go after them as hard as possible. And I wish my colleagues on the Democrat side would do the same, but they didn’t do that with the IRS. They didn’t. It became partisan and it shouldn’t have been.

When you have an agency with the power and the clout and the impact that the IRS can have over people’s lives and they were systematically targeting people, putting people on the BOLO list—be on the lookout for these groups with these names, Tea Party, 9/11, 9/12, those kind of names—and targeting them, if they were going after people from the—from the left, I would be just as adamant about that is wrong for the IRS to do. So hopefully we can find the—find the common ground on this facial recognition.

SEIB: One of—one of the—well, there are two subjects that I think if—when the-when the—if and when the dust ever settles from the whole Russian election interference controversy, there are two underlying issues that I think are important. One is the whole FISA process, which is—

JORDAN: Totally.

SEIB: And that’s a subject and I want to ask you to talk a little bit about that and what you think—what the conversation within your committee, Judiciary and Oversight, is on that.

And the other one is the whole special counsel process, whether that really works the way it’s supposed to.

But why don’t you—why don’t you take those two in turn. Talk a little bit about FISA and what the conversation is like about—

JORDAN: Right now, the conversation is—and I don’t know that this is—I wish it was a little broader. Right now, the conversation is solely focused on what happened relative to the Trump-Russia investigation, what happened to Mr. Page that that FISA warrant back in 2016 and 2017. I wish it would be broader. We had—when we were up for reauthorization in last Congress, I remember I had a press conference—speaking of bipartisanship, we had a press conference with Senator Wyden, Senator Paul, Jim Jordan, Warren Davidson, Jerry Nadler, Zoe Lofgren, and Justin Amash on reforms we thought should happen to this whole area in the law. But right now, the focus is primarily on what took place relative to the Trump-Russia investigation. And it was—it was—in my judgment, the evidence I’ve seen thus far, it is as wrong as it gets.

The State Department put the FBI on notice that there were problems with Christopher Steele and what he was saying. The DOJ put the FBI on notice that there were problems with Christopher Steele and what he was saying, specifically that Christopher Steele was really biased against the president, so much so he had told the Justice Department and Bruce Ohr had communicated that to the FBI that he was desperate to stop Trump. And yet, they go to the FISA Court and it appears when they went to the FISA Court they didn’t tell the court about his bias, they didn’t tell the court about his direct statement to the Justice Department that was conveyed to the FBI. They didn’t tell the court who paid for the document, that it was the Clinton campaign through the law firm, through Fusion GPS to Christopher Steele. And they didn’t tell the court that Steele had been terminated by the FBI because he was out talking to the press. Now, those are pretty important facts that you’re supposed to give to the—to the court when they’re making a decision about violating someone’s constitutional liberties and surveilling them. They didn’t do that; that’s a problem.

So what’s the answer? Maybe you need—this was a few years ago with Senator Van Hollen and I when he was in the House. We had actually sponsored legislation which said there at least should be an advocate in front of the FISA Court representing the person who’s going to lose their liberty. Because you all know, there isn’t—there isn’t one now, you just go and one side is presenting, it’s like a grand jury, you just get the evidence there. So we had—we had—we had put forward the—I forget what we called it, though, civil liberties advocate or something. So there’s some ground I think we could—we could get to, but right now the focus is specifically on the—

SEIB: Is there—but is there a—is there a bipartisan conversation about whether the FISA system works the right way? Or is that not underway yet?

JORDAN: There was last Congress when reauthorization was up. I assume we can get back there. I hope so. I hope Democrats will work with folks like us on the issue.

SEIB: And then the other—the other subject that’s going to be interesting to watch and it’s bipartisan in a weird way in coming months is the legislative branch’s right to subpoena documents. You want documents that would help flesh out what happened in the FISA process.

JORDAN: Sure.

SEIB: Democrats on your committee want documents that will help establish what exactly a Special Counsel Mueller found out in the course of his long inquiry. The executive branch isn’t going to be wild about providing either of those sets of documents, I think, at least not universally or unanimously so. What is the Congress’ right to documentation from the executive branch in situations like these?

JORDAN: I mean, obviously being in—being in the legislative branch, I think it’s—I lean pretty strongly to we should be able to get the information. I know we tried to get certain information from Mr. Holder back a few Congresses ago, specifically, I think, relative to Fast and Furious. So, yeah, I think we should err on the side of getting the information. Right now, though, that decision is going to be the attorney general of the United States. The president has told him you’re in charge of deciding when this classified information is made available to Congress. Obviously, there’s grand jury material that you’ve got to be sensitive to.

SEIB: Right. Different category, though.

JORDAN: Different category. So I think—I think the attorney general is going to—going to make that call. I hope—I hope he, well, gives us the information.

SEIB: Granted. But the attorney general is pretty big as an outspoken proponent of executive authority and executive privilege.

JORDAN: Yeah.

SEIB: Does that bother you?

JORDAN: But you’ve also got to remember what he said about weeks ago when he first testified. I believe it was between the time he had written his letter and written his letter and just before the Mueller report came out and was scheduled to be in front of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee, so when—Senate Finance Committee.

So when he was in front of the Senate Finance Committee, he said four important things. He said, first of all, that he believed there was a failure of leadership at the upper echelon of the FBI. And that’s a term he used, “upper echelon.” And I couldn’t agree more. I mean, you think of Comey, McCabe, Baker, Strzok, Page, two have been—three of them have been fired, all of them were demoted before they left, and two of them were under investigation by the Justice Department. There was certainly a failure of leadership at the upper echelon of the FBI.

Then he said spying took place. And that’s the—that’s the word he used in that committee, said it twice.

He said, third, there was a basis for his concern about the spying that happened.

And then, fourth, he used the terms “unauthorized surveillance” and “political surveillance.” So I think he is thinking about this the way I see it and is going to, I believe, release this information when he thinks it’s appropriate to show what exactly took place at the highest levels of the FBI.

SEIB: But if that—if that information is going to be coming your way, Democrats would say, well, there should be equal inclination to release documents on the things that we’re interested in, which have to do with the Russian interference question. Do you have a problem with that?

JORDAN: As long as it’s consistent with the law, no. And frankly, Jerry Nadler and any—Jerry Nadler and I believe Chairman Schiff are able to go see anything right now relative to classification or classified information at the Justice Department right now that relates to Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.

SEIB: I also asked about the special counsel process. Does it work the right way? I mean, there used to be an independent counsel law.

JORDAN: Yeah.

SEIB: That got scrapped after the Ken Starr episode. We’ve now got a special counsel law. Has it worked? I mean, whatever your feelings about the Mueller investigation, does the process work the right way?

JORDAN: I don’t know. I’ll leave that to maybe others to figure out. All I know is when two years ago this town was, like, they all were clamoring for the special counsel, everyone in this town felt Bob Mueller was the right guy, everyone said that—I guess I didn’t necessarily say that, but everyone else did—and here we have twenty-two months later his report and, you know, it doesn’t seem to be good enough for some folks.

I said this last night on a show. In my mind, summing this all up, the president was falsely accused. Do you investigate the false accusation or do you keep looking at something Bob Mueller spent twenty-two months looking at and has already reached a conclusion? And it seems to me the Democrats have picked the latter. They want to continue to look at something—not even just twenty-two months. The FBI spent ten months looking at this issue from July 2016, July 31 is the date they give that the investigation started, they talk about Papadopoulos—July 31 through May 9 when James Comey was fired. The FBI was looking at it for ten months.

When we interviewed Mr. Comey and did a deposition with him, he told us that ten months they still had zero evidence of any type of collusion, coordination, conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election.

Then Bob Mueller gets hired eight days later, May 17, and we have twenty-two months of his investigation. And he says no collusion, no conspiracy, no coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election, but yet the Democrats want to keep looking at that.

I think maybe we’re better off looking at how the whole false accusation started in the first place. And that’s the perspective Bill Barr and John Durham have and that’s the investigation they’re doing. And I think that makes sense.

SEIB: Well, there was a fair amount of that time in the Mueller investigation that clearly—and it’s clear from the report—was spent not on collusion, but on obstruction of justice, the obstruction question.

JORDAN: Right. And to your—to your question about the special counsel law, the special counsel law says Title 28 600.8(c) says the special counsel shall reach a decision on prosecution or declination. It doesn’t say you can punt. It doesn’t say—it says you’ve got to pick: Are you going to prosecute or are you going to decline? Bob Mueller didn’t do that. He just said we’re not exonerating, we’re not—he just—he played it down the—I don’t get that either.

So, to me, it wasn’t necessarily a problem with the special counsel law because it said—it said—it doesn’t say and, or, or something else, it says one or the other if you read the statute. And it seems to me he didn’t follow that and I don’t know why.

SEIB: Well, you could make kind of a perverse argument that if Bob Mueller didn’t make anybody really happy that that’s probably a sign that he did his job reasonably well.

JORDAN: Some people would say that. Some people would say that.

SEIB: I’m not going to get you to say that, am I? (Laughter.)

I want to turn to the audience for questions in just a minute. But let me—let me—let me close out this section of the conversation at a—at the ten-thousand-foot level, you know, and it has more to do with the way the town works specifically or generally than the oversight process specifically.

But I remember that I had dinner with the late, great John Dingell some years ago. And he was a member of the House for fifty years literally and talked about the changes in the House over that period of time. And he said he thought one of the biggest changes was the way members viewed themselves and their role. He said when I got here people thought of themselves as being from their home state first, representing their branch of government, the legislative branch, second, and representing a political party only third. And my concern, says the late Congressman Dingell, is that that’s now been turned upside-down, that people see themselves as representing a party first and the institution last.

Do you think there’s some truth to that? In other words, has Congress let too much of its authority go to the executive branch because it’s become such a partisan town and people aren’t looking out for the institution they represent as much as they should be?

JORDAN: Maybe. You know, again, I think Republicans—I’d sort of point to things that happened in the Obama administration, things that he did that we thought went across the line. Democrats would probably not look at those as much and point to other things, whether it was DACA, DAPA, things that happened in the Obama administration and we thought, you know, wait a minute, that’s not supposed to be how it works. So maybe.

My view is—maybe it’s just because I’m a—well, you’re a country boy from western Kansas, I’m a country boy from western Ohio—maybe it’s just because I view my job as pretty basic: What did you tell the voters you were going to do when you ran? Go do that. And that’s, to me, it’s that simple, do what you said. So when I run for office, they know, like, Jordan’s not going to raise taxes, certain value issues here’s where he stands. They know I’m on these committees and if I think someone did something wrong my job is to hold them accountable.

Nothing ticks me off more than when I think an agency goes after folks I represent or violates people’s fundamental liberties. So that’s how I view it. Not so it’s such a party or district or state, but what did you tell them you were going to do—do that.

SEIB: Right. Right. But if you—if you think back to the Obama years, there was plenty of complaining on your side—many would say justifiably—that President Obama was ruling by fiat basically, executive order, bypassing Congress.

JORDAN: Yeah. Yeah.

SEIB: The tables have turned and the Democrats are now making the same complaint about President Trump. I’m wondering if there’s a trend here that is worth thinking about.

JORDAN: Yeah.

SEIB: In other words, executive overreach, which is something conservatives like you traditionally worry about.

JORDAN: Yeah. No. And I think we do. People have written books about this. What’s the expanding power of the presidency and on and on and on, so I don’t know. I guess it depends on the issue. I have to look. I mean, I guess what would—what would they say today about the president? Maybe the tariff issue?

SEIB: Yeah.

JORDAN: I think the president has sided, you know, whether it’s 232 or different sections that he’s using and why it’s—why it’s squared. There’s the—

SEIB: Well, national emergency to free up funds for building a border wall, just to take an example.

JORDAN: Yeah. I mean, I look at the facts. The facts in that—and that one, for me, was clear. It’s a crisis. I mean, think about last month. So I was fine voting for that and supported it, supported it strongly, a hundred-and-forty-four-thousand apprehensions last month alone, highest in, like, fourteen years. So if that’s not a crisis, I don’t know what is.

SEIB: How about numerous deployments—and this goes back to the Obama administration—of U.S. forces into hostile areas overseas without congressional approval?

JORDAN: I asked the question—I asked the question in a hearing a couple—like, last year sometime. To the witness I said, do you think—this was last year—so I said, do you think in seventeen years, seventeen years from now we’re still going to be in Afghanistan? So, yeah, on that issue, I do think it’s time for some kind of discussion and look at the whole AUMF and how those things work.

I voted against the administration on the Yemen issue. So yeah, on that issue—because that is—that is clear, like, you’re going to go commit forces overseas in war, Congress is supposed to be involved in that.

SEIB: And national emergency powers to sell arms to Saudi Arabia when Congress says—

JORDAN: Yeah, it’s a debate right now. I know Senator Paul has raised some concerns and we’ll see how that one—how that one shakes out.

SEIB: OK. All right.

So let me—let me invite members to join the conversation.

JORDAN: He’s already fired up. He’s already fired up.

SEIB: Yeah, I know.

JORDAN: He’s like get me at him, let me at him. (Laughter.)

SEIB: So just a reminder, we’re—this is on the record. Wait for the microphone, talk directly into the microphone. State your name and your affiliation.

JORDAN: Wait, this is on the record? I’m kidding, I’m kidding. (Laughter.)

SEIB: Well, too late for that.

JORDAN: Yeah.

SEIB: Limit yourself to one question and please make it a question, not a speech. So anyway, we’ll start there and then go there next.

Q: Thank you. Rob Quartel. I’m chairman and CEO of a couple of technology companies you’ve never heard of, a lifelong Republican, never voted for a Democrat. So I’ll stipulate that you’re as objective and nonpartisan as you say.

If you were chairman, what are three issues that you would be investigating about this administration?

JORDAN: About this administration?

Q: Since they’re the ones in charge of the IRS, Afghanistan, whatever—three issues.

JORDAN: Let me think. Well, I mean, I do think—I mean, I do believe what the FBI did was wrong. I would be investigating—I’d be looking at the same thing that Bill Barr and John Durham are looking at because I think what they did is as wrong as it gets.

And I would—well, think about agencies. Have you ever seen—and many of you have probably been in this town a while; like I said, I’ve been here twelve years—have you ever seen an agency where this has happened. The director of the FBI James Comey fired. Deputy Director Andy McCabe, fired. The inspector general said he lied three times under oath. FBI Chief Counsel Jim Baker demoted, then left, currently under investigation by the Justice Department. FBI Counsel Lisa Page, demoted, then left. FBI Deputy Head of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok, demoted, then fired. Five key people who ran the two biggest investigations in the last decade, right, the Clinton email investigation and the Trump-Russia investigation.

So, tell me when you’ve ever seen a federal agency where that has happened, the top five people who run the biggest investigation, did the biggest—the biggest issues in that agency, all fired, demoted, left. So I would focus on that because I think it’s fundamental and particularly when you think about what took place at the FISA Court, which I think is as wrong as it gets based on the evidence I’ve seen. So I would definitely look at that. That impacts this administration because that was the target.

There are probably some—our committee is looking at—well, Mr. Cummings has scheduled—it’s been postponed, but looking at the travel issue. So this would be—this would be—this is former Secretary Price, former head of the EPA, and Interior Mr. Zinke. So there’s that issue, which, you know, happened with Republicans in charge of these agencies. That’s something that I think you could get bipartisan support to look at because, again, if taxpayer dollars weren’t spent the way they’re supposed to be, that’s what we’re, as the Oversight Committee, that’s what we’re supposed to examine.

I can’t think of a third right now, but the main one would be the first one—the first one—because that is wrong.

Q: But that’s backwards-looking, right?

JORDAN: Well, not the travel. That happened last year, that happened in this administration only. But something as egregious as what I think took place at the FBI and, like I said, I’ve never seen five people in the agency, who run the agency where that has happened, that’s pretty darn important.

I mean, you think about the big—what the IRS did is scary and wrong. And I thought that was the worst thing I had ever seen from government until I started looking at, until we started examining what took place at the FBI. That is—these things should not happen in this country, but they did.

SEIB: Right there.

Q: Thank you. Paula Stern. Thank you very much for having this presentation today.

I’m interested in your point of view as a member of Congress with regard to the emergencies that have been declared and the rate at which they’ve been declared by the president with regard to, for example, the Arms Export Control Act, the Nelson-Bingham provision that’s in the law that requires that these reports come to the Congress with regard to sales to Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, the emergencies that have been declared with regard to tariffs that have been put into place, both on Mexico or threats, for example.

At what point does Congress with regard to checks and balances and the role that Congress is supposed to play say that there are too many emergencies happening and the word “emergency” has simply become a fig leaf for the executive branch to basically do what Congress under the Constitution and trade bill, regulating foreign commerce, has the power to do?

JORDAN: OK. I’ll take all. What I—what I heard is three in there.

So on the Saudi Arabia issue, there’s a thirty-day time period and my understanding that Congress is supposed to have a chance to evaluate and look at this. I think you’re going to see that play out.

Relative to tariffs, I think it’s important to understand first the perspective of the president. Remember, it was about a year ago at the G-7 the president said he wants a world with no tariffs, which I think that’s what I want, we all want. But obviously, the president has been more than willing to use tariffs to accomplish his objective to getting better economic situation, better trade situation, better—just better economic position for the United States. And it’s pretty basic. If we’re sending goods to Europe and they’re charging 10 percent tariff and they’re sending goods—I think about automobiles—and they’re sending them here and we’re charging 2 ½ percent, that’s not fair. And I think Americans get that basic fact. So no one—we’d prefer this not happen—but people get it.

The biggest thing I think needs to happen in the tariff area is we need to get the USMCA passed. And frankly, the question is going to be—the big question will be, will the speaker of the House allow that to happen? Because we got—from Lighthizer, we got notice two weeks ago that they’ve started the clock, that they’re going to send it here in the next thirty days, and then that kicks in the ninety days. And at some point, the speaker is going to decide, is she going to allow it to happen or not? It hope it does. I think it’ll be beneficial for the country. I think the vast majority of Republicans are going to vote for it. I think the chairman of the—I think you can get it done. The question will be, will she bring it—will she bring it forward?

One that happens in this whole tariff area, I think we’re in a much better position. You get that done, get the new NAFTA, the USMCA done, I think you’re in a much better position to focus on the real problem. And everyone gets the real problem is China, what they’re doing with intellectual property rights and a host of other things.

And I will tell you, from a—from our district, the 4th District of Ohio, west-central and north-central Ohio, we’re one of the top manufacturing districts in the country. We’ve got a little company Honda headquartered in our district. We’ve got all kinds of big manufacturing.

We’re also, interestingly enough, sort of the star of the corn and soybean belt as you move across the Midwest. So our people understand the importance of this whole debate.

But I had a—I had a call last fall from a wonderful lady. She runs a manufacturing company. They make tanks for trucks, about five hundred employees. An amazing lady, she’s in her eighties now, but took over the company about thirty years ago. When her husband passed away, she took it over and has just built this thing, an amazing place. She called me up on a Sunday afternoon. She says, Jim, I don’t like these tariffs, but I like the goal the president has, so tell the president we’re not big fans of the tariffs, but we’re with him, we want this, we’re tired of what China is doing, and we want this fight. And that’s coming from someone in manufacturing. So that’s the sentiment I get all across our district from a, as I said, one of the top manufacturing districts in the country.

SEIB: Right there.

Q: Thank you. My name is Tom Firestone. I’m a lawyer with the firm Baker McKenzie.

Could you talk about some of the work you’re doing to protect free speech on college campuses?

JORDAN: Well, we had some hearings last year. That’s right, I kind of forgot about this. But we had a series of hearings. This could be an area where we could work together, frankly, because this would fit in, I think, with some of the focus we have with facial recognition and our concerns about—concerns about that.

So what we tried to do last Congress is highlight it, what’s going on, I mean, this whole—we had a—we had a hearing. The first one was Carolla and—Adam Carolla and Shapiro and they knocked it out of the park, they were hilarious. Then we had some professors come in. And I remember asking—I remember asking this one professor, I said—and you guys know all this, you know, you’ve got safe spaces and free speech zones and biased response teams which is a fancy name for tattletales who run around campus and if you say something politically incorrect you can get in trouble for it and it can be on your—cited and, you know, on your official record and things. I remember asking this one professor at the hearing, I said, Professor, can a free speech zone and a safe space on a college campus be at the same location? Yeah, think about it. Or I said, or is it like one of those diagrams, like a sort of Venn diagram where there’s some overlap and you can have one foot in a free speech zone and one foot in a safe space, but there’s a little bit of real estate in between that’s both safe and free? And this is the absurd, you know, the absurdity that the left will take you to if you allow.

And this is how bad it is, because I said to this other professor, kind of to close the hearing, I said, Professor, could I say this on a—in a safe space on a college campus, could I say this sentence: Donald Trump is president? Dead serious, you can go watch the tape. The professor’s response began with, well, Congressman, it depends. This is crazy.

So I interrupted him, which I’ll do sometimes if I think someone is saying something stupid, and I said it’s a fact, there is no “it depends” about it. He was elected on November 8, 2016. He lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He is, in fact, point of fact, president of the United States.

So this is a scary thing. And there are lots of good—Turning Point and some of these other groups are doing good work in this area and highlighting this. It’s scary.

And, look, I’m a conservative guy from western Ohio, but I went to the University of Wisconsin, which is, like, Madison is as socialist as you can get. And I always—I mean, I went there—I went there to wrestle, but I got a degree while I was there because you’re, you know, you’re supposed to get a degree when you go to college and I did. But, you know, it’s, like, I remember what it was like in Madison in the 1980s. Our sons, both our sons went and wrestled there, too. And Isaac, our youngest, told me the day after the election, like, people just walking around campus and just, you know, what you saw. I told him that—he had this Reagan-Bush hate and I told him you do not wear that on campus, you never know what’s going to happen. He might be a tough wrestling guy, but don’t do it.

I think we’ve just got to highlight it and show what’s going on. And it would be nice if we could work with Democrats on this one, it really would. But, I mean, it has—it has gotten crazy, the things that—I mean, just that hearing, like, crazy.

SEIB: There and then we’ll go back there—or the other way around. That’s fine, go ahead.

Q: It’s easy from the outside to look in and say—

SEIB: I’m sorry, can you—can you identify yourself?

Q: Oh, I’m sorry. Pat Boyle. I’m an investment person at Bessemer Trust.

It’s easy from the outside to say politics look broken and it’s getting worse and things are even more partisan than ever, but does it feel like that from your perspective? And if it does, how would you make it better?

JORDAN: It feels like that. I don’t know that it is. You know, we all read about that campaign between Adams and Jefferson and all this stuff. And it’s been politics is politics. And when you’re fighting about ideas and you believe your ideas are better, you know, it’s you try to get along and work in a bipartisan fashion when you can, but some things you can’t. It’s, like, if I believe A and you believe B it’s a competition. And one point of view has to win.

We had a hearing a few weeks ago where we had—we had the CEO Gilead pharmaceutical in. And Gilead makes the drug Truvada, which is a—which has been an amazing drug, helped so many people who have HIV or AIDS, HIV/AIDS, deal with it. I mean, people are alive today because of this drug. And the Democrats brought him in to beat him up on—the title of the hearing was “Billions in Corporate Profits.”

And you saw the difference in points of view because, I mean, they were going after him. And I remember, when I questioned Mr. O’Day, I asked him five questions. I said, Mr. O’Day, did it take you a few years to develop this drug? Yeah, eleven. And my guess is it cost a few dollars to do the research and development to bring this drug to market. Yeah, 1.1 billion (dollars). And I said, are there people alive today because of your drug? Yeah, lots of people, millions of people alive today because of this drug, living normal lives. Yes. And I said, isn’t it true that a few weeks ago you decided that the two hundred thousand people who have HIV and don’t have insurance, you’re going to give this drug to them free? Yes, we are. And didn’t you also just make a decision that you’re going to break your patent a year early and go generic, bring down the cost of the drug? Yes, we’ve made that decision. And I said, Mr. O’Day, you’re a bad guy, you’re a bad guy.

Now, think about that. Later in the hearing, one of our Democrat members said this is shameful, you guys are evil, and this drug belongs to the public. Now, think about that. That is a—there is no way, when you have that point of view and the point of view that I think most of us in this room would have, there is no way to reconcile that. One side has to win. And let’s hope it’s the side that allows more people like Mr. O’Day and Gilead to develop drugs that are going to save and help a lot of people around this planet.

So I remember Chip Roy did an amazing speech. He said—he asked Mr. O’Day—I forget the name of the drug. He said, Mr. O’Day, do you know what this—he rattled off this big name—this drug is? And the CEO of Gilead said, no, I don’t know. And Chip goes that’s the drug that saved my life when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And I am glad Johnson & Johnson—whatever kind—I forget what—I’m glad they developed it and they spent a lot. And you know what? I was happy to pay because it saved my life.

So, yeah, we should work together when we can, but there are some things you just can’t, like, one side has to prevail. It is a—it is that important of a debate. The part that’s—the part that’s, I think—I mean, you—I remember my oldest son calling and says, dad, whatever you do, just don’t read your Twitter account, right? So that is something that’s different today than twenty-some years ago when I got involved in politics. People will say just unbelievable things.

And, you know, and, look, it comes—people on the left get all kinds of bad things said about them, too, but certainly conservatives do as well. So that part’s a little different. I don’t know if they had Twitter when Adams and Jefferson were debating, so that makes it a little different. But I think it’s just been intense. And that’s what politics is.

Like, the part—I’ve got to tell you, the part I like—there’s lots of things I like about it—but I do like—I do like the competitive aspect about it. If I think I’m fighting for things the folks back home sent me here to fight for and the federal government, some of these agencies are not doing it the right way and harming the people I get the privilege of representing, I am going to fight for them. That’s my job. And I sort of like some of that.

SEIB: Right here.

Q: Carter Page, Global and Natural Gas Ventures.

One of the key focus areas for the FBI according to their mission statement is protecting the American people. And given some of these distractions, there’s been a lot of problems related to that as a lot of people who got caught up in this special counsel investigation in the Comey era dealt with. I’m curious to hear your thoughts just from a national security standpoint the impact on that.

And also, going back to Ms. Stern’s question about, you know, legislative action, President Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 which addressed the civil rights abuses during the FDR administration. And I’m wondering, kind of looking a few steps ahead, are there are any things that might be, you know, remedies that can be foreseen? And that’s maybe quite premature, but—

JORDAN: Yeah. Yeah, I don’t know. I guess to the FBI question, I think the most important investigation happening right now is the one John Durham is doing, the one Bill Barr selected, the attorney general of the United States selected the U.S. attorney from Connecticut, Mr. Durham, to go figure out. You saw the news yesterday that they are no simply taking a narrow focus, but they’re taking a broad focus, including broader than just the FISA, but also this concept of surveillance and everything else in a broader context.

And I think looking at—I mean, there are certain names that I want to know who they are. And were they Western intelligence assets or were they Russian? Like, this Mr. Mifsud guy for example. Azra Turk, the person placed next to Papadopoulos, pretending to be somebody else, who was she working for? I mean, those are important questions and it seems to me that Bill Barr and Mr. Durham are expanding the investigation to look at all that. I think that’s appropriate. And I think it’s all appropriate because we don’t want things like this happening in the future. The FBI should not be doing it.

Remember, the central problem with—what may be the central problem was these were—and this is the name given. When depositions—they were called headquarter specials. So instead of the FBI following the normal protocol and how they would run an investigation, they brought it to the top. On both of these big investigations it was the same team: Comey, McCabe, Baker, Strzok, Page—Clinton investigation, Trump-Russia investigation. And it wasn’t done at the level, the way it’s normally done. And so you don’t have a check if the people at the top are running a headquarter special, you don’t have the proper checks and balances that you would have if it’s done the normal way and then these people are the check. So that, to me, was a fundamental flaw from the get-go in both of these investigations.

Maybe we don’t get the results in the—in the wrongdoing that I think took place, maybe we don’t get that if they followed the normal process and procedure that the FBI typically does. So in my mind, that is the most important investigation happening right now, the one the attorney general is doing.

SEIB: Right there.

Q: Hi, sir. Joe Curtin, USAID.

There’s a perception that Congress has ceded its oversight of the executive branch and especially with this current administration. If you look at last year when four U.S. soldiers were killed in Niger and there were a number of individuals in Congress who weren’t even aware we had soldiers in Niger. More recently, there have been subpoenas, requests for folks from the executive branch to participate in these investigations, that have been willfully ignored. Some lawmakers in fact even encouraging individuals to ignore these subpoenas. Can you talk about how you can build trust with the American people that Congress is doing its work in oversight of the executive branch amongst these instances?

JORDAN: Let me give you two examples where I—because one of—one of the things—I think your reference was a statement I made about Donald Trump—Donald Trump—Donald Trump Jr. And that was when Mr. Burr wanted to bring him back in and he already testified for hours and hours and hours. The same goes with Mr. McGahn. Mr. Nadler wants White House counsel, former White House Counsel Don McGahn, to come in front of the Judiciary Committee.

Maybe there’s a certain place where that makes sense. But that would make sense but for the fact he’s already testified for thirty hours in front of the special counsel. So I’m all for Congress getting information, but, I mean, the White House allowed the White House counsel to testify for thirty hours in front of the special counsel. Really? Now he’s supposed to come in front of the Judiciary Committee?

And it goes back to what I said earlier. I believe the president was falsely accused of something. Do you investigate the false accusation or do you continue to investigate something James Comey and the FBI spent ten months investigating and Bob Mueller spent twenty-two months investigating, spent thirty million dollars, nineteen lawyers, forty FBI agents, five hundred witnesses and twenty-eight-hundred subpoenas? Come on.

So, yeah, normally, I think you’re right, you want—you want the oversight, but this is a—this is a different situation where we now have had an investigation that went on for thirty-two months and it ain’t good enough, even though, when Bob Mueller was named special counsel, this whole town said, oh, this guy is the greatest thing in the world, he’s the greatest, his will be the definitive end-all, be-all statement on this issue. And twenty-two months later? No, it’s not, we’ve got to have more, we’ve got to have more.

So that’s my read on it. I’m all for congressional oversight. This is different. This is—this is completely different.

SEIB: But let me—let me jump in here. One of the things that Special Counsel Mueller also said is that there are certain issues that have to be resolved by Congress—not quite in so many words, but nearly so many words. So he did in fact throw the ball back to your end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

JORDAN: Right. And we have the report. Right? We have the report. I mean, the other thing Bob Mueller said at his press conference was the report speaks for itself. It’s kind of interesting you have to call a press conference to say the report speaks for itself, but he did.

So we got the report, twenty-two months, what does the report say? No collusion and I’m not making a decision on obstruction, even though under the statute he was supposed to make a decision on obstruction. He didn’t. So fine, you got, we got the full report, let’s look at the report.

And frankly, I’ve even said, if you want to bring Mr. Mueller in, Mr. Nadler, fine, I’ve got questions for him, I’ll ask him questions. No, no, we’re not going to do that, but we’re going to bring in Don McGahn, who already spent thirty hours in front of him.

I mean, it—I’ll tell you what, you talk to the folks I get to represent, they’d say come on, thirty-two months, that’s probably enough, that’s probably enough. Thirty-two months, thirty million dollars, that’s probably enough.

SEIB: Other questions?

If not—

JORDAN: Filibuster. Rob wants another round.

SEIB: That’s always dangerous. It’s the last question or the second question that gets you into trouble, right?

JORDAN: Last question, yeah, exactly. (Laughter.) Exactly.

SEIB: Go ahead.

JORDAN: And I do got to get to the committee, so maybe I do need to step out of here.

Q: With all due respect, you still haven’t answered the question he asked, which is, what about the four soldiers? Should somebody be investigating Niger and our role in that country that most people didn’t know about and similar issues? And you mentioned Afghanistan. Most of this has been a complaint about the Democrats, not about what you would do if you were chairman.

JORDAN: Well, as I said, at a—at a hearing last year, an interesting hearing—it was one of these—Justin Amash organized this hearing. I remember this, a year ago. And that’s when I asked the question, I think it was someone from the ACLU, are we going to be in Afghanistan seventeen years from now?

So, look, I’m all—I’m one of the few Republicans that voted against the administration on Yemen, so I’m all for having this debate, this is our constitutional role. But I’m also for looking into the very things I’ve been talking about for the last fifty-five minutes. Those are—would you disagree? Do you think—you think we shouldn’t look into how the whole Trump-Russia narrative started and how the FBI began the investigation?

Q: I think it’s probably more important to make sure the Russians and others don’t interfere with the elections so that you and others can actually do something about the FBI. And we don’t know what the administration is doing seriously about any of that.

JORDAN: Fair enough. I’m for making sure that foreign governments don’t try to influence our election. I think—I think many of us would be concerned about what China may try to do in light of this whole trade negotiations and trade debate we’re having. I’m all for that.

But I’m also for making sure that the FBI doesn’t do what they did before. And I think you would agree that’s a problem.

Q: It’s a problem. But if they interfere and we don’t get the government we want, we won’t be able to look at the FBI. The single most important step number one is to make sure we have free, clear, unimpeded elections. And the Congress is not doing anything about that, nor is the administration.

JORDAN: And just as important—just as important—is making sure you don’t have a government that systematically violates American citizens’ fundamental liberties. And that happened when the IRS did what they did and it happened, I believe, when the FBI took one party’s opposition research document, dressed it all up, made it look like legitimate intelligence, took it to a court, passed it off as true when they—when Comey told us it was unverified and didn’t even tell the court that the guy who wrote the darn thing was biased against President Trump, desperate to stop him, been fired by the FBI, and the State Department had notified the FBI as well as the Justice Department notifying the FBI. That’s scary. And they spied on the guy who is sitting in the room here.

Q: If you don’t get reelected because the Russians make sure you aren’t, you won’t be able to look at that question.

JORDAN: Yeah. Well, fair enough. But all I’m saying is both are important. Both are important.

Q: Fine. One is—

JORDAN: All right? We agree. See? We end this on a high note. (Laughter.)

SEIB: Consensus, all right.

Congressman, thank you very much.

JORDAN: You bet. Thank you.

SEIB: Good luck. Thanks. (Applause.)

(END)

Top Stories on CFR

United States

Immigration has been an important element of U.S. economic and cultural vitality since the country’s founding. This interactive timeline outlines the evolution of U.S. immigration policy after World War II.

Women and Women's Rights

A recent spate of state laws to restrict abortion services in the United States has reignited debate over the procedure. How does the United States’ regulation of abortion compare to the rest of the world?

Technology and Innovation

5G networks could revolutionize the digital economy, but with this opportunity come major cybersecurity challenges. U.S. policymakers need to respond using technical and regulatory measures, diplomacy, and investments in cybersecurity skills training.