In calling in Corey Lewandowski to testify, House Judiciary Committee Democrats hoped they’d get a spectacle that might boost their impeachment efforts.
It’s unclear whether that will happen. What they clearly did get, however, was a spectacle that cemented Lewandowski’s brand as an unapologetic fighter for Donald Trump—for better or for worse.
Tuesday’s high-profile hearing was essentially a coming-out party for Lewandowski’s long-teased, but still unannounced campaign for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire: he talked up his “blue collar” roots and service to President Trump while effusively praising his former boss and gleefully trolling his Democratic questioners. During a bathroom break, he tweeted out a link to a website supporting his possible Senate run; at another point, while answering a question from a friendly lawmaker, he fantasized about what he’d do if he were in the “upper chamber.”
That performance didn’t come as a shock to Democrats on Capitol Hill or back in New Hampshire, who said they expected that Lewandowski would seize on the hearing to boost his own profile.
Democratic lawmakers and aides did not admit to any second thoughts about Lewandowski’s appearance in light of his explicit politicking and eagerness to gum up the hearing. And they predicted his testimony would damage whatever political hopes he does harbor.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) noted that in his testimony, Lewandowski admitted that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report found that Trump summoned him to the Oval Office in 2017 and directed him to send a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the president wanted Mueller reined in. Lewandowski had previously said he couldn’t recall talking about Sessions with Trump.
“That’s obstruction of justice, plain and simple,” said Cicilline. “Admitting that in this hearing, under oath, I think is not a way to begin a U.S. Senate campaign.”
New Hampshire Democrats, meanwhile, have been salivating for weeks at the prospect of Lewandowski creating a televised spectacle, believing it to be a golden opportunity to define him to voters ahead of a possible bid. Party officials and activists in the state have been widely speculating that the former Trump campaign official would use his face time in front of the Judiciary Committee to leave little doubt in Granite Staters’ minds that he is preparing to launch a Republican challenge to Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Josh Marcus-Blank pointed to Lewandowski’s promotion on Tuesday of the website paid for by a new outside group backing him, called Stand With Corey. “By ducking questions and promoting that dark money group during a Congressional hearing to which he was subpoenaed to testify, Lewandowski is demonstrating once again that he works for those shady clients and Trump, not the people of New Hampshire,” said Marcus-Blank.
“That’s perfectly in keeping with his character,” one member of the New Hampshire Democratic state committee said on Tuesday afternoon. “Everyone who’s been following him in New Hampshire knows he’s all about empty, shameless performances.”
Lewandowski’s stunts in New Hampshire have historically been well telegraphed. In 2010, he debated a cardboard cutout of former Gov. John Lynch on national tax day at the height of the Tea Party movement.
“It’s all performance,” the New Hampshire Democratic state committee member added.
The 46-year-old Windham resident had been on a media tour in his home state in recent weeks, saying he’s “taking a very long look” at a possible candidacy. After steering the early part of Trump’s first presidential campaign—before being ousted by the president in a dramatic fashion—the bombastic operative has since worked as a Washington consultant and television commentator, engaging in politics from the outside.
The Daily Beast previously reported that Lewandowski recently huddled with Trump after several administration officials encouraged him to enter the race. While some Republicans in the state explicitly said his entrance would help Shaheen’s chances—a sentiment that was bolstered by an editorial in the conservative newspaper the Union Leader advocating for a write-in over Lewandowski—his allies are convinced he’s entering as the frontrunner.
Over the course of over five hours on Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Lewandowski took every opportunity he could get to talk up his biography and his work in helping to elect Trump in 2016. In fact, he seemed to revel in injecting explicit politics into his testimony. “I appreciate your comments about my ability to win in New Hampshire,” he said, in response to Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who mentioned Lewandowski’s political ambitions.
It was just one more thing to enrage Democrats during an already infuriating afternoon during which Lewandowski refused to answer questions and generally stymied Democrats’ limited time questioning him. “This is not a Republican primary campaign,” admonished Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) to Lewandowski. “This is the House Judiciary Committee.”
Meanwhile, Republicans on the panel seemed eager to serve softballs to Lewandowski that allowed him to expound on his patriotism, values, and character. "Do you think the Democrats will go to any length to undermine the president of the United States and influence the 2020 election?" asked Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ).
"I believe in this democracy of the United States and I love this country," responded Lewandowski, adding that his primary concern is that his children and grandchildren look back at the Mueller inquiry and say, "that never should have been allowed, never to a Republican and never to a Democrat."
Despite the muddled questioning and political maneuvering, Democrats said it was worth bringing in Lewandowski.
“Besides,” said one Democratic aide, “It’s not like he has a shot at winning.”