WASHINGTON — Corey Lewandowski’s testimony may have felt a bit circus-like at times for House Democrats, but it was a disaster for President Donald Trump.
The first hearing of the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee’s effort to develop articles of impeachment against Trump was a contentious affair in which Lewandowski, Trump’s 2016 campaign manager and the lone witness, said Democrats “hate this president more than they love their country.”
But no one — not Lewandowski nor committee Republicans — seriously disputed the central theme of the day: that Trump had gone to extreme lengths in circumventing the entirety of the federal government to get Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, to instruct then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly announce the president had done nothing wrong and limit the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe in 2017.
Ultimately, Lewandowski put flesh on the bones that Mueller gave the committee in his report.
And as NBC’s Geoff Bennett reports, Democrats believe Trump’s efforts to exercise control over Lewandowski’s testimony — through its assertion of executive privilege and the use of White House lawyers to monitor his remarks — may open a new pathway to an impeachable obstruction of justice offense. They liken Trump’s moves to actions that formed the basis of the third article of impeachment the Judiciary Committee drafted against President Richard Nixon, who ultimately resigned before the full House could vote on whether to impeach him.
Either way, Lewandowski’s appearance delivered what the Democrats wanted — and the process wasn’t pretty for Trump.
Over the course of several hours, Lewandowski slowly — and perhaps unwittingly — added movie-like color, and a few new morsels, to Mueller’s dry narrative of Trump’s decision to lean on a trusted confidant to carry out a special mission that all the president’s men and women had refused to execute for fear of breaking the law.
The cloak-and-dagger details included Lewandowski taking down careful notes in the Oval Office, sticking them in a safe at home, and trying once to schedule a meeting with Sessions outside the Justice Department — and its visitor logs — only to be frustrated by Sessions canceling.
Trump asked Lewandowski to do that after then-White House counsel Don McGahn declined to fire Mueller at Trump’s direction, according to Mueller’s report.
Barry Berke, a consultant serving as counsel for committee Democrats, later asked Lewandowski about passages in Lewandowski’s book “Let Trump be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency” that detail White House deliberations about bringing Lewandowski in to “run the the Russia investigation” just weeks earlier.
Lewandowski said the job was then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus’s idea, not Trump’s, and that “to the best of my knowledge” Trump was not intentionally dangling the possibility of a high-ranking West Wing post in front of Lewandowski while asking him to gut the special counsel probe.
Asked by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., whether he was picked for the Sessions assignment because Trump thought “you would play whatever role he wanted because it was illegal,” Lewandowski curiously chose not to criticize the premise.
“That would be a question for the president, congressman,” Lewandowski replied. He had said moments earlier that he believed he was never asked to do anything illegal but also repeatedly asserted that he is not a lawyer.
What Democrats were trying to show was that Lewandowski was an essential player in an attempt by Trump to obstruct justice by sabotaging the Mueller probe. Though Lewandowski denied it, they contended the longtime political operative’s sense of self-preservation — his understanding that he was putting himself at legal risk — stopped him from carrying out orders from Trump.
“The president never asked me to do anything illegal and he never asked me to keep anything secret,” Lewandowski said.
At a second White House conclave a month later, Lewandowski told the president that he would tell Sessions what to do.
If Sessions wouldn’t meet with him, Trump said, Lewandowski should tell Sessions he would be fired.
“I took that as a joke,” Lewandowski testified.
But rather than meeting with Sessions or threatening that he would be fired, Lewandowski passed that job off to Rick Dearborn, a White House official. Dearborn sat on it.
Democrats said their behavior was evidence that they knew the president was acting improperly.
“Rick Dearborn knew delivering the message was wrong. You knew it was wrong,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.,” said as he questioned Lewandowski. “That’s why even after being asked to deliver it and saying you would handle it soon, you passed it off to him and you never followed up. … I think the president asking a private citizen to try to scare his attorney general into ending the investigation into the president’s conduct is obstruction of justice. Plain and simple.”
At times, the hearing was a partisan food fight, with Democrats accusing Lewandowski of using his time to prep a Senate run in New Hampshire, Lewandowski and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., engaging in several minutes of third-grade quarreling over who would read a quotation from a video screen, and Republicans calling for several dilatory roll call votes over various injustices — real or perceived.
Democrats on the committee repeatedly asked Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., whether he would hold Lewandowski in contempt of the committee, and Nadler scolded him for repeatedly declining to answer questions by citing a controversial assertion of executive privilege by the White House. Lewandowski has never worked for Trump in the administration, and Democrats contend that his conversations with Trump cannot legally be protected from testimony by an executive privilege.
When the hearing was turned over to hired lawyers, Lewandowski acknowledged that he sometimes misrepresents facts when he’s not under oath.
Berke played a clip of Lewandowski telling MSNBC’s Ari Melber that the president hadn’t asked him to engage with Sessions on the Russia probe.
“I have no obligation to be honest with the media,” Lewandowski said, adding that the media are “just as dishonest” as anyone else.
In the end, Trump, who had praised Lewandowski on Twitter earlier in the day, was left worse for wear. Lewandowski had effectively colored in the outlines Mueller had left of one set of Trump’s efforts to interfere in the Russia probe.
The only question — one for Congress to decide after it has collected more testimony — is whether that picture looks like criminal obstruction of justice by the president.
Who won the Democratic debate in October?
The Democratic presidential contenders faced off for their fourth debate on Tuesday night, and the divide between the moderates and progressives sharpened over the course of the evening.
The biggest rift between the 12 candidates on stage in Ohio was once again over health care and the cost of their various proposals and whether it’s proper to eliminate private health insurance. But splits were also evident over how far to push for an assault weapons ban and taxes on the wealthy.
Here’s a look at those had strong performances and those who failed to move the needle:
She was the most attacked candidate of the night in her first debate since she’s zoomed to the front of the field. Warren was targeted by several rivals, but the strongest shots came from her moderate Senate colleague Amy Klobuchar. She accused Warren of not being honest about how she would pay for her plan to provide Medicare to every American, saying, “You are making Republican talking points right now in this room.”
But Warren held her ground, weathered the blows and emerged largely unscathed. She struck back at Klobuchar and others who challenged her, accusing them of “vague campaigns that nibble around the edges of big problems.”
For those looking for an especially strong debate performance from Biden after intense scrutiny over his son’s business dealings, tonight wasn’t it.
While the former vice president had a strong finish, he stumbled over this words at points and largely dodged a question about son Hunter Biden’s activities in Ukraine. Biden skated largely unchallenged by others on the stage for much of the night, but when he claimed he’s the only candidate with a record of getting big things done, that was enough for Bernie Sanders, who shot back: “You got the disastrous war in Iraq done!” And when Biden tried to take credit for helping Warren pass the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the Senate, she pointedly thanked President Barrack Obama instead.
He had a heart attack two weeks ago, but you wouldn’t know it from his energetic and boisterous performance Tuesday night, consistent with past debates. That may quell fans’ fears that the Vermont senator won’t be able to carry on an aggressive campaign — and he used the stage to announce a rally in New York City this weekend to put those thoughts to rest.
But with Warren rising in the polls and Sanders slipping, he did little to separate himself from her and the pair continued to be united against the more moderate voices on the stage.
Facing what could be the last debate she qualifies for, Klobuchar delivered her best showing to date. The Minnesota lawmaker, who has failed to gain traction on the campaign trail, came out fighting to keep her candidacy alive, as the threshold for qualifying for the November debate is higher. She convincingly offered herself as a daughter of Middle America, presenting an alternative for voters uncomfortable with more progressive candidates like Warren.
Struggling to get his campaign out of the single digits, Buttigieg aimed to portray himself as a centrist, likely hoping to rise should Biden stumble. Buttigieg’s strongest moments came when he referenced his service in the military to burnish his foreign policy credentials. And after a dispute over their gun control plans, Buttigieg lit into Beto O’Rourke, saying, “I don’t need lessons from you on courage — political or otherwise.”
While the other seven candidates had some had strong moments, their performances aren’t likely to catapult them into primary contention:
- Kamala Harris spoke passionately on access to abortion;
- O’Rourke was personal and heartfelt on gun control;
- Andrew Yang hit on his signature issue — how technology is changing the workforce;
- Tulsi Gabbard bolstered her anti-war stance in a tense exchange with Buttigieg over U.S. troops in Syria;
- Tom Steyer, tagged as the only billionaire on stage, said even he was for taxing the rich;
- Cory Booker edged a discussion on gun control toward violence in the inner cities and away from focusing on only mass shootings; and
- Julian Castro, raising the topic of immigration, which was barely touched in the debate, noted, “I also want people to think — the folks this week that saw those images of ISIS prisoners running free — to think about how absurd it is that this president is caging kids on the border and effectively letting ISIS prisoners run free.”
Biden and Warren clash over accomplishments: 'I got votes' for your bill
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Vice President Joe Biden faced off on their past accomplishments and how they could enact change to appeal to voters during the fourth Democratic presidential debate.
AOC, Omar set to endorse Bernie Sanders for president
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is feeling the Bern.
The freshman congresswoman plans to endorse Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president at a rally in New York on Saturday, the Sanders campaign told NBC News.
The endorsement was first reported by The Washington Post.
Another member of “the squad,” Rep. Ilhan Omar, announced on Tuesday night that she is endorsing Sanders. The other two members are Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
Sanders mentioned he’d have a “special guest” at his “Bernie’s Back” rally in Queens during Tuesday’s debate, and the campaign later acknowledged that guest is “Green New Deal” champion and democratic socialist Ocasio-Cortez.
The sought-after endorsement is a blow to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who’s teamed with Ocasio-Cortez on various causes over the past year.
Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have some history. She was a volunteer organizer for Sanders’ 2016 campaign, and he hailed her long-shot win in the Democratic primary last year. “What she did is talk about the real issues,” he said then.
They also paired on legislation to cap credit card rates this year.
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