During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski would not give Democrats an inch, balking at their questions about President Trump’s alleged attempts to obstruct special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Lewandowski even dodged questions that fell within the narrow scope of what the White House permitted to him to testify about, as he at times he refused to affirmatively confirm minor facts in Mueller’s report.
“It was just a rant,” Lewandowski said of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s (D-TX) requests that he at least acknowledge quotes from Mueller’s report displayed on a screen in the hearing room.
He stonewalled Democratic questioning by asking for a copy of the Mueller report for him to refer to, by slowly searching for the page being alluded to, and by declining to read key passages, suggesting that his Democratic inquisitors read them instead.
Lewandowski’s appearance in the Mueller report was limited but nonetheless embarrassing. In 2017, he was repeatedly asked by Trump to deliver a backchannel message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, seeking that Sessions publicly curtail the Mueller’s probe. Lewandowski never fully followed through: firstly, because a meeting he had scheduled with Sessions was canceled, and later, because he tried to pawn the task off to a White House aide instead.
On Tuesday, the most Lewandoski would give Democrats were confirmations that certain details in the Mueller report were accurate, but Lewandowski wouldn’t elaborate any further.
Asked about whether Trump followed up on Lewandowski’s efforts, Lewandowski wouldn’t say whether the President ever asked if he had delivered Sessions the directive.
“I don’t know if that’s in the report, sir,” Lewandowski told Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).
Johnson equated questioning Lewandowski to cleaning a fish with a spoon: “It’s very hard to get an answer out of you.”
There were expectations going into Tuesday’s hearing that Lewandowski would be a combative witness, given his showy loyalty to the President and hints that he is about to launch a Senate run. Lewandowksi’s opening statement lavished praise on the President and said the probes into his conduct were”harassment.”
It went over well with Lewandowksi’s proverbial audience of one:
Such a beautiful Opening Statement by Corey Lewandowski! Thank you Corey! @CLewandowski_
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 17, 2019
Once the questioning got underway, it appeared to be part of Lewandowski’s strategy to keep his temperament mild as he repeatedly delivered back to the committee the gag order the White House had put him under:
“The White House has directed me not to disclose the substance of any discussions with the President or his advisors to protect executive branch confidentiality.”
He also get spirited intervention from Republicans on the committee, who were eager to throw procedural wrenches into Democrats’ hopes for a TV-friendly hearing. Twice, at the beginning of the hearing, the top Judiciary Republican Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) forced committee votes on procedural complaints. Other Republicans used their time to rail against the Democrats and express sympathy for Lewandowski over the financial burden the investigations supposedly put on him.
Democrats were frustrated by Lewandowski’s willingness to play along with the GOP’s Trump-related question — if only to deny any wrongdoing — while claiming he was unable to answer theirs.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) grilled Lewandoski on why Trump chose him to deliver the message to Sessions and whether it was because what Lewandowski was being asked to do was illegal.
“That would be a question for the President, congressman,” Lewandowski replied.
He declined — citing the White House’s sketchy claim of privilege — to answer whether he had been offered a pardon.
He also denied that he had ever been discouraged from cooperating with Mueller.
“I’ve never been instructed to do anything but tell the truth,” Lewandwoski said.
The answer came minutes after he repeated his refrain of being instructed by the White House to not answer questions about his conversations with Trump.