- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 17, 2019

House Judiciary Democrats’ first “impeachment hearing” fizzled Tuesday as a fiery and combative Corey Lewandowski dodged their questions.

Pressed for details about his personal conversations with President Trump, Mr. Lewandowski was defiant. The hearing dissolved into a shouting match at times as Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager visibly frustrated Democrats with his refusal to answer.

“The White House has directed that I not disclose the substance of any discussion with the president or his advisers to protect executive branch confidentiality,” said Mr. Lewandowski, who never worked in the White House. “I recognize this is not my privilege, but I am respecting the White House’s decision.”

SEE ALSO: Corey Lewandowski hearing erupts in chaos over Mueller report

Democrats who hoped to glean more information from Mr. Lewandowski in their bid to impeach Mr. Trump were disappointed.

“I think it is just shameful that the Republicans, the White House and the witnesses continue to obstruct justice,” Rep. Pramilla Jayapal of Washington state told The Washington Times. “It just has to make the American people wonder what they have to hide.”

Democrats pressured Mr. Lewandowski to disclose conversations he had with the president about suspected obstruction of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

SEE ALSO: Corey Lewandowski gambles on Trump ties to excite GOP for potential Senate bid

Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Lewandowski to persuade then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to restrict Mr. Mueller’s investigation, according to the special counsel’s report.

Mr. Lewandowski confirmed the account but said he didn’t deliver the message. He said the reason was that he was out of town vacationing with his children — not because he was “squeamish,” as one Democrat suggested.

He also insisted that the president did not pressure him to break the law.

“Congressman, the president didn’t ask me to do anything illegal,” he said in a particularly contentious exchange with Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat.

Rep. David N. Cicilline of Rhode Island said Mr. Lewandowski’s confirmation of Mr. Trump’s order was exactly what Democrats needed.

“That’s explosive. This is a private citizen being summoned to the Oval Office and being directed to give a message to the attorney general,” Mr. Cicilline said. “This is classic obstruction of justice.”

Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. of Georgia acknowledged that no new information or bombshell revelations were gained from the more than five hours of questioning, but he said the hearing helped Democrats create their own record independent of the Mueller report.

Prying any other information out of Mr. Lewandowski proved nearly impossible as he repeatedly stonewalled and enraged Democrats with his pugnacious attitude.

“You are like a fish being cleaned with a spoon. It’s very hard to get an answer out of you,” Mr. Johnson said.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee didn’t fare much better. The exasperated Texas Democrat told the former campaign manager, “This is the House Judiciary Committee, not a house party.”

Yet Mr. Lewandowski continued mocking Democrats. He addressed Rep. Eric Swalwell of California as “President Swalwell” in a nod to his failed bid for the 2020 nomination.

Mr. Lewandowski also slow-walked the first question from committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. As the New York Democrat asked him about sections of the Mueller report, Mr. Lewandowski stalled by repeatedly asking for a copy.

During a short afternoon recess, Mr. Lewandowski tweeted to promote his potential bid for a U.S. Senate seat from New Hampshire.

Mr. Lewandowski’s conduct so infuriated committee Democrats that some demanded that he be held in contempt of Congress for obstructing their investigation.

Mr. Nadler said he would consider the request and called the former campaign manager’s behavior “completely unacceptable.”

Mr. Lewandowski isn’t the first witness Democrats have had trouble controlling in a hearing.

“It’s becoming a serious problem for us that the White House has ordered absolute defiance and obstruction of our investigations,” Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland told reporters. “We really have to figure out how to deal with that. The members are frustrated, and a lot of people are talking about contempt.”

In particular, Mr. Raskin floated the idea of Congress’ “parallel power,” also known as inherent contempt, to hold witnesses accountable for not cooperating.

Democrats considered invoking the long-dormant congressional power earlier this year but decided instead to go through the court system, as they did with former White House counsel Don McGahn and Attorney General William P. Barr.

Despite their frustrations, some Democrats said Mr. Lewandowski provided evidence to add to their case for impeachment.

“Obvious obstruction of justice is being done in full view now. In some ways, they’re helping to drive the case,” Ms. Jayapal said.

The president was impressed with his former campaign manager’s performance.

Mr. Trump highlighted Mr. Lewandowski’s opening statement, which offered a vociferous defense of the president.

“Such a beautiful opening statement by Corey Lewandowski. Thank you, Corey,” the president tweeted shortly after the hearing began.

Republicans said the time would have been better spent holding hearings on the Justice Department inspector general’s report on former FBI Director James B. Comey. The report found that Mr. Comey violated FBI policies when he leaked a set of memos detailing his conversations with Mr. Trump.

“It’s a shame that you’re here, Mr. Lewandowski,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican. “Jim Comey should be sitting in that chair. He should be answering questions about why he did so much damage to the FBI and our country.”

Mr. Gaetz later said the hearing was held because Democrats “hate this president more than they love their country.”

The hearing was the first by the committee since it passed a measure defining the parameters of their investigation into possible obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump as members consider recommending articles of impeachment to the full House.

Two former top White House aides were also scheduled to appear Tuesday, but they defied congressional subpoenas at the instruction of White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

The White House said the aides, Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter, are “absolutely immune” from answering congressional questions. Steven Groves, White House deputy press secretary, said “the same legal position has been followed consistently” by administrations of both parties.

Mr. Nadler said the White House’s effort to stop or limit former staff from testifying is “an absolute cover-up.”

“This is a cover-up, plain and simple,” he said. “If it were to prevail, it would upend the separation of powers envisioned by our founders.”

Mr. Lewandowski came out swinging in his opening statement, telling Democrats they were wasting their time. He quickly pointed a finger at the Obama-era intelligence community for failing to stop Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“The Obama-Biden administration and the intelligence community, overseen by James Clapper, Jim Comey and John Brennan had the responsibility to the American people to ensure the integrity of the 2016 election,” he said. “I leave it to this committee and the American public to decide how successful — or not — they were in doing their jobs.”

He also accused Democrats of taking the nation down a “rabbit hole” of Russian collusion allegations fueled by “Trump haters.”

“As for actual ‘collusion’ or ‘conspiracy,’ there was none,” he said. “What there has been, however, is harassment of the president from the day he won the election.”

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