Everyone expected Corey Lewandowski’s testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to be a combative affair. But the fact that the wheels came off the hearing moments after it started reflected just how utterly painful Republicans want to make Democrats’ newly minted impeachment inquiry.
Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) could not get through his questioning of Lewandowski—President Trump’s former campaign manager and a key figure in Robert Mueller’s report—without the witness slow-walking by asking for a copy of the report itself and then asking for instructions on how to find specific passages.
Then, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the top Republican on the panel, forced two groan-inducing votes on parliamentary procedure, which devolved into gavel-banging and shouting from Democrats and Republicans over Lewandowski’s clock-chewing tactics and Nadler’s move to give himself more time for questioning, respectively.
It was a frustrating and foreboding start to an event that Judiciary Committee Democrats had billed as their first real impeachment hearing—and their first real cross-examination of a close Trump associate.
While no one expected genuine revelations from Lewandowski, who remains a vocal Trump supporter, Democrats did hope for a chance to amplify to the public a central instance of possible obstruction of justice outlined in Mueller’s report. The special counsel found that Trump met with Lewandowski and asked him to pressure then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curb the Mueller probe.
Instead, Democrats were largely left to read sections of the report aloud while Lewandowski responded by asking them to repeat their questions—or by saying he couldn’t answer them. He also went so far as to declare he could not answer questions that were simply in the report itself.
Late on Monday night, the White House’s legal team wrote to Nadler telling him that Lewandowski would be unable to answer any questions about conversations with the president.
Lewandowski’s conduct so infuriated Democrats that several members called for him to be held in contempt of Congress for obstructing their investigation. Near the end of the hearing, Nagler dangled the punishment but ultimately suggested the committee had bigger fish to fry.
Several of his exchanges with Democrats grew testy as the hearing unfolded. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) hammered Lewandowski, arguing that his stonewalling of questions blocked “any reasonable inquiry” into the truth.
“This is a House judiciary, not a house party,” the congresswoman quipped.
Lewandowski, in turn, asked her to repeat her questions, which he described as “just a rant.”
But Lewandowski did reveal some nuggets of new information, if minor. Under questioning from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), Lewandowksi said that he was not reluctant to deliver Trump’s message to Sessions and only did not do so because he went on vacation—a remark that prompted laughs from the Democratic side of the dais.
Lewandowski has been expected to soon kick off a U.S. Senate bid in his home state of New Hampshire—and was expected to use his high-profile appearance as a boost. Minutes before Lewandowski was scheduled to testify, a supporter of his nascent political efforts began laying the groundwork for what will undoubtedly be an expensive campaign.
Stand With Corey PAC filed a statement of organization with the Federal Election Commission at 12:44 p.m., registered to a post office box in Manchester, New Hampshire, and bearing few fingerprints about the people or organization behind it. But just minutes after the ostensibly independent Stand With Corey political group was created, Lewandowski’s communications adviser Emily Miller, who sat behind him at the hearing, urged supporters to chime in with the hashtag #StandWithCorey.
Earlier in the day, accompanying website domains, including standwithcorey.com and istandwithcorey.com, were also registered. The person or organization behind them also took steps to conceal their identity, employing a service that hides website registration details.
And during a brief recess in the hearing, Lewandowski’s Twitter account posted a link to the Stand With Corey website, which “just launched to help a potential Senate run.”
And early on, Lewandowski did impress perhaps the only person he needed to: his old boss. After he wrapped his opening remarks, Trump tweeted his approval, saying he delivered a “beautiful” opening statement.
—With additional reporting by Lachlan Markay.