WASHINGTON — Corey Lewandowski and Democrats repeatedly clashed in the first impeachment hearing Tuesday as the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump stonewalled questioners and staunchly defended the president.
In a contentious and at times chaotic hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Lewandowski dodged many questions, citing White House orders not to discuss private conversations with Trump, even though he has never worked in the Trump administration.
But Lewandowski, pressed by Democrats, still confirmed the accuracy of the report by special counsel Robert Mueller that said that Trump asked Lewandowski to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curtail Mueller’s investigation but insisted Trump didn't ask him to do anything illegal.
Lewandowski, who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, opened the hearing with a strong political statement that won Trump’s tweeted praise calling it “beautiful” and a "thank you."
“We as a nation would be better served if elected officials like yourselves concentrated your efforts to combat the true crises facing our country as opposed to going down rabbit holes like this hearing,” Lewandowski said.
Lawmaker protests, points of order and two Republican attempts to adjourn rocked the hearing, which Georgia's Rep. Doug Collins, the top panel Republican, called a “sham” and dismissed as a false impeachment proceeding that lacked the required vote by a full House to open an impeachment inquiry.
Democrats brought in Lewandowski to testify about two 2017 private meetings with Trump that Mueller's report included as episodes of potential obstruction by the president in what they see as his attempt to end the Russia investigation.
Trump was furious that Sessions had recused himself from the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, a step that led to the appointment of Mueller. Trump tried to get Sessions to “unrecuse” and asked others to speak to him about, the report said.
Lewandowski said that Trump asked him in a June 2017 meeting to write down directions to deliver to Sessions to make a public statement saying Trump was being treated unfairly and that Sessions should say he should “move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections.”
But Lewandowski never delivered the message, and he told lawmakers that was because he went on a two-week family vacation. Instead, he asked Rick Dearborn, a former Sessions aide, to do it. But Dearborn said he was uncomfortable with the request and declined to deliver it, the Mueller report said.
A month later, Lewandowski met again privately with Trump and the president told him to tell Sessions that if he would not meet with Lewandowski, Sessions would be fired. But Lewandowski told the hearing, "I took that as a joke."
Democrats repeatedly pressed him on whether he was uneasy about Trump's request.
“Didn’t you think it was a little strange the president would sit down with you one-on-one and ask you to do something that you knew was against the law?” asked Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). “Did that strike you as strange?”
Lewandowski replied, “I didn’t think the president asked me to do anything illegal.”
Nadler had invited Lewandowski, Dearborn and former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, but the White House blocked Dearborn and Porter from appearing and told Lewandowski to only discuss what Mueller made public in his report.
“I think we should call this what it is — an absolute cover up by the White House,” Nadler said. And he called the White House attempts to put restrictions on Lewandowski “a new and dangerous theory: the crony privilege.”