As recently as a couple of weeks ago, when it was far from clear who'd serve on Donald Trump's legal defense team during his impeachment trial, the president reportedly "loved the idea" of adding a group of far-right House congressmen to the operation. The plan was to add Republican lawmakers such as Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), John Ratcliffe (Tex.), and Doug Collins (Ga.) to the legal team, at least in part because of their "bare-knuckles tactics and top-rated TV performances."
As we discussed, Senate GOP leaders went out of their way to discourage Trump from pursuing such a course, and it appears those lobbying efforts were effective: when the president's legal defense team expanded to include the likes of Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz, no House Republicans were included.
Last night, however, it appears the White House nevertheless found jobs for the lawmakers. Politico reported:
After excluding House Republicans from his defense team, President Donald Trump announced Monday night that eight of them would serve as his personal warriors.Republican Reps. Doug Collins (Ga.), Mike Johnson (La.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Debbie Lesko (Ariz.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), John Ratcliffe (Texas), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Lee Zeldin (N.Y.) will "serve as part of his team working to combat this hyper-partisan and baseless impeachment," according to a White House news release Monday.
The official White House announcement, introducing the eight GOP members, was a little odd. For one thing, it insisted that during the House impeachment process, the White House "was prohibited from participating in the proceedings." That's plainly false: Trump and his attorneys were invited to play a role, but they refused. That's not a prohibition on participation; it's the opposite.
For another, while many of the president's most sycophantic congressional allies were part of the new roster, House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) was not included -- and his absence was notable given the intensifying questions about his possible role in the broader Ukraine scandal.
But even putting these relevant angles aside, there was a lingering question for which there was no obvious answer: what exactly are these eight House Republicans going to do? They're now part of Trump's "impeachment team," but what does that mean?
The Politico report quoted a GOP source who said the lawmakers "are expected to play a more behind-the-scenes role, with a focus on messaging and strategy."
Or put another way, it seems these eight House Republicans are going to appear on television a lot in coming days, but unlike so many of Trump's GOP allies, they'll enjoy the White House's semi-official imprimatur.
Postscript: The official statement last night described the eight-person lineup as an "initial list," which suggested more congressional Republicans may end with the same White House stamp of approval.