WASHINGTON — House Democrats hoped their first formal impeachment hearing on Tuesday would be the opening salvo in their campaign to convince regular Americans that Trump needs to be booted out of office.
But the afternoon’s star witness, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, had his own project in mind: Make his former boss happy.
And it sure seems like he did. Trump tweeted out a link to Lewandowski’s “beautiful” opening statement, apparently watching from Air Force One en route to California.
Lewandowski deflected questions about whether Trump obstructed justice with Trump-like sarcasm, and boasted of his role in Trump’s 2016 win and his own biography.
By late afternoon, the event felt more like an unorthodox campaign stop in Lewandowski’s looming run for Senate in New Hampshire than the beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency.
In case there was any confusion, Lewandowski tweeted out a link to a new website supporting his “potential senate run” in the middle of the hearing.
Asked whether he was Trump’s “bag man” or “hit man,” Lewandowski replied: “I think I’m the good-looking man, actually.” Asked what he did after Trump pressed him to help hamstring Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, he replied, flippantly: “I went on vacation.”
Based on what congressional Democrats got out of Lewandowski Tuesday, they appear to still be shaking off the rust from their August vacation.
Impeachment or bust?
The event, which gave House Dems a chance to grill a key witness to potential obstruction of justice on national television, yielded almost no new details about Trump, Russia, or obstruction. The stonewalling offered a dark omen for Democratic hopes of following up with a string of blockbuster hearings this fall that will swing public opinion in favor of impeachment.
But even so, Tuesday marked a rare kind of limited success for Democrats, who actually got to speak with the witness they subpoenaed instead of just getting stonewalled by Trump. The White House has repeatedly barred Democrats from accessing witnesses and documents they’ve demanded, including two other former White House aides, Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn.
Lewandowski, 45, was a key witness in Mueller’s investigation, and his name pops up over 100 times in Mueller’s 448-page report. Over 1,000 former prosecutors have said Mueller presented damning evidence that Trump obstructed justice, which would have resulted in criminal charges against anyone who didn’t happen to have the immunity from prosecution sitting presidents enjoy. And Lewandowski provided Mueller with some of the report’s most incendiary details.
Yet perhaps the most substantive exchange of the afternoon involved quibbling about note-taking. Democrats pressed Lewandowski about his sworn statement Tuesday that he’d previously taken dictation from Trump, despite the Mueller report’s assertion that he did so for the first time when Trump asked him to deliver a secret message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions about blocking the Mueller investigation.
Lewandowski simply insisted that the Mueller report’s language wasn’t his own, and left it at that.
“Those are not my words, Congressman,” he said.
Pressed by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries about whether he lied about that point to Mueller, Lewandowski simply stated: “I didn’t lie.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Monday he believes that impeaching Trump in the House is “imperative,” even though he thinks the Senate will block his removal, making a House vote symbolic at best.
But he also said Democrats need to convince the public that impeachment is necessary, or risk a titanic struggle that would “tear the country apart.”
Let Trump be Trump
Lewandowski had hinted that his appearance might be a quasi-campaign hit on Twitter earlier Tuesday morning, writing that he planned to use his time to stand up to the “angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected president,” adding: #Senate2020.
Now, Lewandowski is poised to become the first member of Trump’s inner circle to try to repeat his boss’ unorthodox, attention-grabbing campaign tactics.
He brings a lot of baggage with him. Lewandowski was charged with simple battery while he was Trump’s campaign manager, for grabbing a Breitbart reporter named Michelle Fields. The charge was later dropped. He was later accused of sexual assault in December 2017 by the Trump-supporting singer Joy Villa during a party at Trump’s D.C. hotel.
But much like his boss, that may not matter to his prospective voters. A recent poll showed Lewandowski ahead in the state’s primary, with his support at 23% vs. 9% for his closest GOP rival. He’s still 10 points behind incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, with 39% against his potential Democratic opponent’s 49%.
Cover: Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, reacts as he testifies to the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)