Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski became the first impeachment witness in House Democrats’ probe into Donald Trump as Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler charged the president with obstructing their investigation.
Nadler, in a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, blasted the president’s decision to forbid former White House aides Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter from testifying Tuesday and to limit Lewandowski’s ability to talk about conversations he had with Trump after he became president.
‘Having avoided a charging decision from the special counsel’s office due to the Department’s policy precluding indictment of a sitting president, President Trump now appears to be using the powers of his office to obstruct all investigations by the only branch of the federal government currently capable of holding him accountable,’ Nadler wrote to Cipollone.
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski became the first impeachment witness to testify before the House Judiciary Committee
Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler charged the president with obstructing House Democrats’ investigation
Cipollone told the committee in a letter Monday night that Lewandowski – who is mulling a New Hampshire Senate bid – would not to discuss conversations he had with Trump about government matters unless those subjects were already mentioned in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
‘The White House has directed Mr. Lewandowski not to discuss the substance of any conversations he had with the President or senior Presidential advisers about official government matters, unless the information is expressly contained in the Report,’ Cipollone wrote.
‘Mr. Lewandowski’s conversations with the President and with senior advisers to the President are protected from disclosure by long-settled principles protecting Executive Branch confidentiality interests,’ Cipollone argued.
Additionally, Cipollone, in a separate letter, ordered former Porter and Dearborn not to testify, arguing they are ‘absolutely immune’ from congressional testimony.
Nadler blasted the White House counsel’s move in his opening statement.
‘Mr. Lewandowski, you are here under subpoena. That means you are required to answer our questions, all our questions, completely and truthfully,’ he said.
The White House forbid former White House aides Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn from testifying
Corey Lewandowski did not work in the White House but was an informal adviser to President Trump
White House counsel Pat Cipollone limited what Lewandowski could talk about in his testimony
The New York Democrat also questioned if Dearborn – who served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs in Trump’s White House – had a high enough ranking in the administration to fall under executive privilege.
‘I question how Mr. Dearborn fits under those rules. According to DoJ opinions, actual immunity applies to, quote, the president’s immediate advisers who serve as the president’s alter ego, closed quote. To extend this already dubious adoption to Mr. Dearborn is a dangerous stretch. I think we should call this what it is, an absolute cover-up by the White House. Mr. Lewandowski is here and has vital information about presidential obstruction of justice. The White House wants to limit our and your ability to hear it all,’ he said.
‘The White House is advancing a new and dangerous theory, the cronie privilege. It makes absolute immunity look good by comparison. Where are the limits? This is a cover-up, plain and simple. If it were to prevail, especially while the Judiciary committee is considering entering articles of impeachment, it would end a separation of powers as envisioned by our founders,’ Nadler added.
Lewandowski was aggressive and combative in his appearance, particularly during a back-and-forth with Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee.
‘Don’t ask me a question I won’t answer,’ he told her when she pressed him on his conversations with the president.
‘This is a House judiciary – not a house party,’ she shot back.
And when she pressed him to answer a question about part of Mueller’s report, which was projected on a screen in the hearing room, Lewandowski snapped back: ‘ You’re welcome to read it, congresswoman.’
‘You’re welcome to be stalling, and I’m not going to stall. Either answer the question yes or no,’ Jackson Lee responded.
‘I will not disclose any conversation I’ve had with the president,’ Lewandowski said.
With Jackson Lee’s five minutes of question time expired, Nadler called time but said Lewandowski could answer her last question.
‘I don’t believe there was a question, congressman,’ Lewandowski responded. ‘Just a rant.’
Corey Lewandowski seen during the 2016 campaign with Donald Trump and Eric Trump
Corey Lewandowski with his lawyer Peter Chavkin
Lewandowski is the first impeachment witness to appear before the committee since Mueller testified in July.
He came out fighting in his opening statement.
‘As the special counsel determined, there was no conspiracy or collusion between the Trump campaign and any foreign government, either on my watch or going forward. Not surprisingly after the Mueller report was made public, interest in the Fake Russian collusion narrative has fallen apart,’ he said.
‘Sadly the country spent over three years and 40 million taxpayer dollars on these investigations. It is now clear the investigation was populated by many Trump haters who had their own agenda – to try and take down a duly elected president of the United States. As for actual ‘collusion’ or ‘conspiracy, there was none. What there has been however, is harassment of the president from the day he won the election,’ he added.
President Trump praised Lewandowski’s opening statement, calling it ‘beautiful’ in a tweet.
He also delayed answering Nadler’s questions when the Q&A part of the hearing began.
Lewandowski first told Nadler he could not answer his questions about parts of Mueller’s report as he did not have the report in front of him. Committee staff provided him with a copy.
‘The White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any communications with the president or his advisers,’ he also said when asked about conversations with the president.
He hinted at his strategy earlier in the day.
‘Excited about the opportunity to remind the American people today there was no collusion no obstruction. There were lots of angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected President. Tune in. #Senate2020,’ he tweeted Tuesday morning.
Corey Lewandowski came out fighting in his opening statement
Republicans also used delaying tactics during the hearing, including making a motion to adjourn that the Democratic-led panel voted down.
Lewandowski has remained a close adviser to the president even though he has no formal role in the Trump White House.
Trump has indicated he would support Lewandowski should he run for New Hampshire’s Senate seat next year.
House Democrats wanted to ask Lewandowski about an effort by the president to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to redirect the Mueller probe away from Trump’s 2016 campaign – a part of the Democrats’ investigation into whether the president obstructed justice.
The episode is outlined in Mueller’s 448-page report: In June 2017, Trump met with Lewandowski at the White House and gave him a message to pass along to Sessions – that the attorney general should shift the focus of the Russia probe to future elections.
Sessions had recused himself from overseeing Mueller’s investigation.
A month later, Trump asked about the matter and said Lewandowski should ‘tell Sessions he was fired’ if he would not meet with the former campaign manager, according to Mueller’s report.
Lewandowski asked then-White House aide Rick Dearborn to deliver the message instead but Dearborn, uncomfortable with it, did not do so, Mueller’s report noted.
Judiciary panel Chairman Jerry Nadler argued Lewandowski does not get executive privilege because he did not work in the White House
Nadler said on Monday he considers Lewandowski’s appearance an ‘impeachment hearing.’
Democrats have argued Lewandowski is not bound by executive privilege as he never formally worked in the White House.