Ed Keenan is the Star’s new bureau chief in Washington, where he will be covering U.S. politics and culture in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond.
WASHINGTON, DC—In the first day of hearings Tuesday in the U.S. Congress’ impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, the biggest revelation may have been that Corey Lewandowski is a fan of the New England Patriots.
During more than five hours of sometimes heated but often rote responses to questions about possible obstruction of justice by the president raised in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election, the former Trump campaign manager and later unofficial aide to the president was unwilling to reveal much.
“The White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any conversations I may or may not have had with the president or any of his advisers, to protect executive branch privilege,” he repeated again and again to questions from Democratic members of the party, including Chairman Jerry Nadler.
He continued doing so long after Nadler specifically instructed him to answer questions, ruling that the privilege he was attempting to invoke did not exist in law and that both the White House instruction to withhold information and his following of that instruction were illegal.
The performance — or at least the first part of it — pleased Trump, who tweeted “Such a beautiful Opening Statement by Corey Lewandowski! Thank you Corey!”
On Monday night at a rally in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, Trump mocked the hearing and the judiciary committee, calling its members “radical left crazies” intent on removing him from office. “No president should have to go through what I’ve gone through,” he said at the rally. “It’s a disgrace to our nation.”
His office matched its actions to his words Monday, advising the committee that two of the former White House staffers they had subpoenaed who featured in Mueller’s report — Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn — would be prevented from appearing before the committee because the White House believes them to be protected by executive privilege. And it informed Lewandowski and the judiciary committee by letter that it would instruct him — though he had never been an employee of the White House in any capacity — to limit his testimony about interactions with the president to facts already quoted in Mueller’s report.
Democrats on the committee including Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar and chairman Nadler invoked the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon to suggest these actions by Trump were an obstruction of congress, itself an impeachable offence. Nadler said he was considering whether to hold Lewandowski in contempt for his “completely unacceptable” behaviour in refusing to answer questions.
Still, Lewandowski, who mentioned he plans to run for the senate in New Hampshire as a Trump-allied Republican in the upcoming election, followed the instructions of the president’s office throughout questioning by members of the committee. He volunteered his favourite NFL team and made a speech about putting the interests of the nation above partisanship in response to friendly questions from Republican committee members, and pointed out that his book Let Trump Be Trump is a New York Times bestseller “available in fine bookstores everywhere, I’m guessing.” But he returned to a mantralike reading of the instructions from the White House in response to any questions about his interactions with the president after he was elected. He did volunteer more than once that the president never asked him to do anything he thought was illegal.
The questioning was focused on an episode of possible obstruction of justice mentioned in the Mueller report in which Trump asked Lewandowski — a private citizen — to deliver a message to then-attorney general Jeff Sessions. Trump wanted Sessions to publicly say that though he had previously recused himself from involvement in Mueller’s Russia’s investigation, it was unfair to Trump, that Trump had done nothing wrong, and that Sessions would instruct Mueller to limit the investigation to preventative measures that could be taken to prevent meddling in future elections. Trump later told Lewandowski to tell Sessions if he didn’t follow instructions he’d be fired. Lewandowski did not deliver either message.
Lewandowski confirmed the accuracy of the report in these specifics under questioning, repeatedly, while largely refusing to elaborate.
The judiciary committee investigation will continue “at a later date,” according to Nadler, but its next hearing and who it will call has not yet been set.
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