House Dems, Lewandowski Spar 09/18 06:09
The first impeachment hearing held by House Democrats quickly turned hostile
as their sole witness, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski,
stonewalled many of their questions and declared they were "focusing on petty
and personal politics."
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The first impeachment hearing held by House Democrats
quickly turned hostile as their sole witness, former Trump campaign manager
Corey Lewandowski, stonewalled many of their questions and declared they were
"focusing on petty and personal politics."
Lewandowski, a devoted friend and supporter of President Donald Trump,
followed White House orders not to discuss conversations with the Republican
president beyond what was already public in the report by former special
counsel Robert Mueller. Trump cheered Lewandowski along as he testified on
Tuesday, tweeting that his opening statement was "beautiful."
The hearing underscores what has been a central dilemma for the House
Judiciary Committee all year as they investigate --- and potentially try to
impeach --- Trump. Many of the Democrats' base supporters want them to move
quickly to try to remove Trump from office. But the White House has blocked
their oversight requests at almost every turn, declining to provide new
documents or allow aides and associates to testify.
On Tuesday, Lewandowski, who is considering a run for U.S. Senate in New
Hampshire, defiantly made clear he wouldn't make life easy for the Democrats.
He demanded that they provide him a copy of the Mueller report, sending
Democratic staff scrambling to find one. He read directly from the report and
asked Democrats to read passages to him, showing that he wouldn't say much
beyond what Mueller wrote. Republicans on the panel forced a series of
procedural votes, immediately sending the hearing into disarray.
"He's filibustering," said a frustrated House Judiciary Committee Chairman
Lewandowski eventually began to answer some questions --- he told the
committee that he doesn't think Trump "asked me to do anything illegal" --- but
still stuck mostly to what was already in the report, giving Democrats little
new information to go on. And he made clear his dislike for the House majority
in the opening statement, calling them petty and asserting that investigations
of the president were conducted by "Trump haters."
Lewandowski was a central figure in Mueller's report, which the committee is
examining as part of its impeachment probe. The report, which said Trump could
not be exonerated on obstruction of justice, detailed two episodes in which
Trump asked Lewandowski to direct then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit
Mueller's investigation. Trump said that if Sessions would not meet with
Lewandowski, then Lewandowski should tell Sessions he was fired.
Lewandowski never delivered the message but asked White House aide Rick
Dearborn, a former Sessions aide, to do it. Dearborn said he was uncomfortable
with the request and declined to deliver it, according to the report.
Under questioning by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Lewandowski confirmed as
"accurate" that Trump had asked him to deliver the message. At least two
Democrats asked if he "chickened out." Lewandowski said no, that he took his
kids to the beach instead.
And under questioning from a lawyer for the Democrats, Barry Berke,
Lewandowski acknowledged that he had possibly lied in a cable interview about
his interactions with Trump when he said he didn't remember the president
asking him to get involved with Sessions. New rules approved by the committee
last week for impeachment hearings allow staff questioning at the end of the
Democrats say the televised hearings are to educate the American people on
the Mueller report and what they say is egregious behavior by the president.
They argue that the blockade from the White House and stonewalling from
witnesses like Lewandowski just gives them more fodder for lawsuits they have
filed against the administration --- and possible articles of impeachment on
"You are also proving our point for the American people to see," Nadler
said, noting that one of the articles of impeachment drafted against President
Richard Nixon involved obstruction. He said Lewandowski's behavior is
Two other witnesses who were subpoenaed alongside Lewandowski, Dearborn and
former White House aide Rob Porter, did not show up at all, on orders from the
White House. The White House says the former aides are "absolutely immune" from
testifying --- a principle that Democrats are currently challenging in court.
The committee's impeachment investigation faces major hurdles, and it's
still unclear whether the panel will ever draft articles of impeachment or hold
any impeachment votes. The Republican Senate is certain to rebuff any House
efforts to bring charges against the president. Moderate Democrats have
expressed nervousness that the impeachment push could crowd out their other
accomplishments. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the public sentiment
isn't yet there.
Still, the Judiciary panel is moving ahead, last week approving the rules,
including the staff questioning, for what Nadler said will be an "aggressive
series" of impeachment hearings this fall. Republicans declined to use their 30
minutes of staff questioning, arguing that the hearings aren't really
impeachment because the House never voted to begin an inquiry.
Tuesday's hearing featured both combative exchanges between Lewandowski and
Democrats and friendly questions from the Republican side of the dais. The
witness took personal shots at some Democrats --- calling California Rep. Eric
Swalwell, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary, "President
Swalwell," for example. The Democrats taunted Lewandowsi as well, with members
occasionally reminding him that he was "not yet" a senator.
Republicans focused their ire on Nadler and the Democrats.
"They are going to bring back anybody, as much as they have to, to find
something, anything to keep impeachment hopes alive," Rep. John Ratcliffe,
R-Texas, told Lewandowski during his round of questioning.
Lewandowski's political future wound throughout the proceedings, which
offered him a widely televised platform from which to defend Trump and publicly
introduce himself on the congressional political stage. A poll last week showed
Lewandowski would win the GOP nomination for Senate in New Hampshire. Trump has
offered his support for any bid from the right to challenge Democrat Jeanne
For his part, Lewandowski on Tuesday did nothing to bat down cracks from
Democrats about his ambitions. And during a break in the hearing, he tweeted a
link to his new super PAC.