House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan generated plenty of headlines yesterday, but for unfortunate reasons. The Ohio Republican joined with two other GOP committee chairs to press Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for answers about the ongoing criminal investigation into Donald Trump, which was a tough move to defend given the circumstances.
But that wasn’t the only headline Jordan generated. The Hill noted:
CNN’s Manu Raju asked Jordan at the GOP retreat in Orlando about Trump’s possible indictment on Monday after noting that the House majority is expected to go after Bragg for prosecuting the former president. “And then what changed?” Jordan responded. “President Trump announces he’s running for president and shazam! Now they are — we’re going to have some bookkeeping error from seven years ago.”
This was not an off-the-cuff comment that the Ohioan later realized was foolish. In fact, the Judiciary Committee chairman soon after appeared on Fox News, adding, “Now they come after [Trump] for some alleged bookkeeping error? You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
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Jordan isn’t exactly known for fact-based arguments, but in case anyone’s tempted to take his defense seriously, that’s probably unwise. Trump stands accused of directing his fixer to pay hush money to porn actress Stormy Daniels to cover up an alleged affair, reimbursing his fixer, and lying about it, all as part of an allegedly illegal campaign scheme that sent Trump’s lawyer to prison. (Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has denied having an affair with Daniels.)
A variety of phrases come to mind. “Bookkeeping error” isn’t one of them.
Even Trump himself didn’t like Jordan’s defense, publishing a missive shortly before midnight last night that read in part, “There was no ‘bookkeeping error.’” (The former president apparently doesn’t want to concede that there were any “errors” at all in this controversy.)
But that’s not the funny part. Rather, what struck me as especially interesting about Jordan’s line is how familiar it was. In fact, it was last August, shortly after the FBI executed a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, when Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News that Trump’s classified documents scandal appeared to be little more than “a bookkeeping issue.”
Months later, in an entirely different kind of Trump scandal, the talking point is apparently making a comeback.
What’s more, it’s not the only defense the right is recycling from the Mar-a-Lago scandal. Last August, the former president and his allies targeted law enforcement, and now they’re doing the same thing. Trump tried pushing the “everybody does it” defense, and the right is now rolling out that argument, too.
Republicans, to be sure, have some credible rhetorical options. They can emphasize the former president’s presumption of innocence. They can predict his ultimate acquittal. They might consider waiting to see the evidence against Trump before deciding they don’t like it. Some could even take this opportunity to finally distance themselves from the disgraced, twice-impeached former president altogether.
But to simply read from last summer’s script is unlikely to persuade anyone.