Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski says he’s preparing to defend his former boss when he faces the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon in what top Democrats say is their first official “impeachment hearing.”
“Excited about the opportunity to remind the American people today there was no collusion no obstruction,” Lewandowski tweeted Tuesday morning. “There were lots of angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected President.”
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He added the hashtag “Senate2020,” teasing his prospective challenge to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in his home state of New Hampshire.
By facing the cameras on Tuesday, Lewandowski — who provided some of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s most damning evidence of potential obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump — will become the first eyewitness from the investigation to appear before lawmakers in public.
But whether they elicit new information is an open question. Lewandowski has a history of combativeness with House Democrats in previous congressional testimony. He refused to answer a slew of questions when he faced the House Intelligence Committee last year behind closed doors.
He could also use the hearing as a launchpad for his potential Senate bid, using the event to more closely align with Trump, rather than dish on potential crimes.
The pugilistic Lewandowski, however, has baggage that would weigh down any run, including a charge of simple battery for grabbing former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. That charge was dropped. More recently, in 2017, he was accused of unwanted touching by the singer Joy Villa, a Trump supporter. Some senior Republicans in New Hampshire have already expressed their strong opposition to his candidacy.
In 1999, he was also charged with a misdemeanor for bringing a gun into the Longworth building while working as deputy chief of staff for Republican Bob Ney. At the time, an aide said Lewandowski accidentally left the gun in a laundry bag he brought through metal detectors.
Still, his appearance is a win of sorts for House Judiciary Committee Democrats, who have struggled to secure public testimony from Mueller’s key witnesses amid an all-out blockade by the Trump White House.
Two other Mueller witnesses on the committee’s schedule — former top White House aides Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter — both declined to appear under orders from the White House that were issued late Monday. The White House cited “absolute immunity” in ordering them not to testify. Lewandowski was also ordered to not discuss his conversations with the president, other than those detailed in the Mueller report.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler assailed the White House’s effort to block the three men’s testimony as another example of “obstruction” by the president and his administration.
“If [Trump] were to prevail in this cover-up while the Judiciary Committee is considering whether to recommend articles of impeachment, he would upend the separation of powers as envisioned by our founders,” Nadler said in a statement.
Lewandowski’s name appears 128 times in Mueller’s report, including 98 times in the section on obstruction of justice. Other administration officials told Mueller’s team Lewandowski was a “devotee” and a “comfort” to Trump, who saw his former campaign manager as a loyal ally.
Lewandowski sat for an April 6, 2018, interview with Mueller, according to the report, providing an eyewitness account of an effort by Trump to constrain Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller also obtained notes, emails and even LinkedIn exchanges.
In 2017, Trump deputized Lewandowski to approach then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and order him to either restrict Mueller’s probe to future interference by Russia or be removed from his Cabinet post. Lewandowski, though, told Mueller he didn’t want to deliver that message to Sessions, so he asked Dearborn to pass it along instead. Dearborn never followed through, Mueller found.
In his analysis of the episode, Mueller found that Trump’s actions met all the criteria that would typically result in an obstruction of justice charge. But Mueller also indicated that this team had determined at the outset not to judge whether Trump had committed a crime, owing in large part to a longstanding Justice Department opinion that says a sitting president is immune from indictment.
For the White House, Tuesday’s hearing is the latest effort to block former advisers from cooperating with Congress. The White House has offered various reasons that former aides cannot testify — including that top presidential advisers have “absolute immunity” from appearing before Congress and, in turn, cannot answer questions about the obstruction of justice allegations contained in the 448-page Mueller report. It applied this rationale to Dearborn and Porter.
Lewandowski never held a formal role in the Trump administration, but has served as an outside adviser to the president — and the White House cited that relationship in ordering him not to disclose the contents of his private conversations with the president, other than what has already been publicly revealed in Mueller’s report. The White House has cited a longstanding Justice Department opinion that says even informal advisers can be shielded from testimony since the president should be able to rely on their confidential advice.
Nadler said on Monday that he considered Lewandowski’s testimony to be an “impeachment hearing,” a remark that comes as Democratic leaders continue to openly disagree on what to call the committee’s impeachment probe.
The White House has already blocked former chief lawyer Don McGahn from testifying, and the Judiciary Committee has asked a federal court to force his cooperation. The administration has also prevented former Trump aide Hope Hicks from discussing her tenure in the White House and McGahn’s former deputy Annie Donaldson from answering questions related to the alleged obstruction episodes she witnessed during her time in the White House.