Washington — As theenters its public phase, top Republicans in the House are weighing whether to temporarily assign Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the panel that will conduct the initial public hearings. Discussions about adding Jordan to the committee are "active and serious," a senior Republican involved in the process told CBS News.
Jordan, currently the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee and an outspoken defender of President Trump, has essentially led Republican efforts in the closed-door impeachment proceedings thus far, where three committees have been able to participate. His top investigator, Steve Castor, has conducted the bulk of witness questioning.
If Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were to temporarily assign Jordan to the Intelligence Committee, he would have to make room for him by removing a current member. The move would also undermine Devin Nunes, the committee's top Republican. McCarthy has sole discretion over Intelligence Committee assignments.
"Democrats have turned the Intelligence Committee into an impeachment committee," said the senior Republican aide, who was granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. "We are interested in putting together the best team."
Jordan is viewed by some Republican colleagues as better equipped than Nunes to be the Republican face of the inquiry because of his experience running investigations on the Oversight Committee. He has also been a fiery supporter of the president since the inquiry began, regularly holding press conferences and appearing on television.
Jordan was one of only two Republicans to address reporters on Monday outside the secure hearing room where the closed-door sessions have been held. He spoke after the committees released transcripts of depositions with former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraineand former top State Department adviser , who appeared before lawmakers in October. Asked about Yovanovitch's claim that she felt "threatened" after Mr. Trump told the Ukrainian president that the ambassador was going to "go through some things," Jordan said Mr. Trump "can talk with foreign heads of state how he wants."
While Nunes has attended some of the closed-door depositions, he has less experience running high-profile investigations and keeps a lower media profile. Nunes asked no questions of McKinley and did not attend the Yovanovitch deposition. Jordan, on the other hand, questioned both of them extensively.
Jack Langer, a spokesman for Nunes, did not reply to a request for comment. A spokesman for Jordan declined comment. A spokesperson for McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"To defend this president, you have to live in his alternative universe," a Democratic lawmaker who has attended the depositions said. The lawmaker stressed that Nunes has only attended a short portion of each deposition "to b--ch about this and then he leaves."
In 2017, Nunes, then the chairman of the Intelligence Committee when Republicans were in the majority,from the committee's Russia investigation after claiming he had documents proving the Trump campaign had been surveilled by the Obama administration. Nunes shared these dubious findings with the president while withholding them from the committee. Nunes had obtained the documents from staffers on the National Security Council. Obama administration officials were found to have done nothing improper.
"Jim Jordan would be a good addition to augment the HPSCI team but there is no doubt that they are very capable should his addition not be plausible," Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a close ally of both Jordan and the president, told CBS News.
Rules governing permanent select committees allow leaders of either party to change their rosters, but the number of members from each side must remain the same. It is unclear who McCarthy would remove from the committee to make room for Jordan. Two Republicans — Will Hurd and Mike Conaway, both from Texas — are retiring at the end of their current terms. The newest Republican on the Intelligence Committee is John Ratcliffe, also from Texas.
"It's a select committee. They can do whatever they want," the Democratic lawmaker said. "They can say, for the purposes of this investigation, Jordan is a member of the committee. I don't think we can fight that."
Olivia Gazis contributed to this report.