Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski battled with Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday over his refusal to answer questions about his conversations with President Donald Trump, saying he was only able to speak about what was in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
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Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., dismissed the White House claim that the conversations between the two were privileged, noting Lewandowski had never worked in the executive branch.
(MORE: White House blocks former top Trump aides from testifying)
He also rejected the White House argument made on Monday blocking two former senior aides to the president from testifying before the committee — former White House staff secretary Rob Porter and former deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn — claiming they had “absolute immunity.”
“The White House is intent on preventing the American people from hearing the details, so it is no surprise that the White House blocked two of our witnesses, Mr. Porter and Mr. Dearborn, from showing up at all today,” Nadler said.
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Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) listens to comments during a House Judiciary Committee markup, Sept. 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C.
“I think we should call this what it is, an absolute cover up by the White House,” he said.
The hearing was the first under the committee’s new rules Democrats say are designed to facilitate an impeachment inquiry that could lead to articles of impeachment on possible obstruction of justice.
After Lewandowski was sworn in, the hearing took on a circus-like atmosphere as Republicans interrupted with multiple points of order and Democrats did the same.
Corey Lewandowski, President Trump’s former campaign manager and close confidant, is seated to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing of their impeachment investigation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 17, 2019.
In his opening statement, Lewandowski told the committee the hearing was a waste of time since he’s already testified before Congress three separate times.
“Throughout it all, and to the best of my recollection, I don’t recall ever having any conversations with foreign entities — let alone, any who were offering help to manipulate the outcome of the election,” Lewandowski said, praising the president’s 2016 victory throughout the statement.
“We as a nation would be better served if elected officials like you concentrated your efforts to combat the true crisis facing out country as opposed to going down rabbit holes like this hearing,” Lewandowski said.
Soon after, Trump, traveling in California, tweeted, “Such a beautiful Opening Statement by Corey Lewandowski! Thank you Corey! @CLewandowski”
Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Georgia, was able to get Lewandowski to confirm some conversations with the president about a key point Democrats are pursuing: Trump directing him in the Oval Office, according to the Mueller report, to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation.
When asked by Johnson why he didn’t deliver the message. Lewandowski said he was out of town and at the beach with his kids and denied that he was “squeamish” about delivering it. When asked if the president followed up and pressured him to deliver the message, Lewandowski said that was inaccurate.
The Mueller report says Lewandowski eventually asked former deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn to deliver the message.
“You chickened out,” Rep. Johnson said.
“I went on vacation,” Lewandowski said, telling Johnson he took his kids to the beach and that his kids were the priority.
Lewandowski, with White House lawyers sitting behind him, repeatedly skirted answering questions by saying, “the White House has directed me not to disclose the subject of any discussions.”
He also refused to read the passages from the Mueller report that were in front of him on a committee screen and at one point snapped back at Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, calling her line of questioning a “rant.”
He testified that he never thought the president asked him to do anything illegal, saying he disagreed with the premise of Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen’s line of questioning asserting it was strange the president would sit down one-on-one and ask Lewandowski to do something illegal.
“I disagree with the premise of your question,” he said. “I don’t think the president asked me to do anything illegal.”
“You got cold feet and you chickened out. The president’s trust was misplaced,” Cohen said about not following through on Trump wanting Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions to limit the scope of the Mueller investigation.
Lewandowski, who served as Trump’s first campaign manager until he was fired in June 2016, has remained close to Trump and others in the West Wing, serving as an outside adviser to Trump since his election but never served in Trump’s administration.
President Donald Trump walks to address the media before boarding Marine One for a trip to New Mexico, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Sept.ember 16, 2019.
The White House had said Lewandowski could testify only about his time working for Trump on the campaign.
(MORE: White House counsel cooperated with Mueller’s probe, met with special counsel’s team several times: Sources)
“… 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 and, as a result, the White House has directed Mr. Lewandowski not to provide information about such communications beyond the information provided in the portions of the [Mueller] Report that have already been disclosed to the Committee.”
Just as Lewandowski testified before Congress, amid reports he might run for U.S. Senate in his home state of New Hampshire, a new PAC supporting him was registered with the Federal Election Commission. The committee, named Stand with Corey, is not an official campaign committee but is instead an outside political action committee.
Lewandowski himself does not appear to have filed his candidacy with the FEC yet.
The new pro-Lewandowski PAC listed Republican operative Cabell Hobbs as its treasurer, who is also treasures the John Bolton PAC and the John Bolton Super PAC.