The immediate buzz about the very first “impeachment hearing” featuring onetime Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was that it didn’t go very well. Democrats were caught “flat-footed” while Lewandowski scoffed and mocked them. They were demoralized and embarrassed. They were shell-shocked.
As the first official hearing in the Judiciary Committee’s inquiry into whether there should be an inquiry, the word that best sums it up is “pitiful.” But it didn’t have to be that way. There were two moments that showed that such hearings could be useful, could genuinely produce information, and could genuinely build the foundation necessary to take this mess back in front of the whole House.
The first of those instances was actually the last—the last hour of the hearing, in which Lewandowski faced attorney Barry Berke, a white collar attorney who has taken a leave of absence from a top-ranked New York firm expressly to assist the committee. Berke hit Lewandowski with rapid-fire questions that cut through the wall of smugness to finally knock the sneer from the former campaign manager’s face.
The other critical moment was when Rep. Eric Swalwell tried and failed to get Lewandowski to answer a simple question for easily the hundredth time and instead got another repeat of Lewandowski claiming that the White House had asked him not to talk about any conversation with Trump, the staff, or pretty much anyone. Lewandowski also made sure to toss in a not-at-all-veiled threat. When asked by Swalwell whether or not he always put his notes in a safe, Lewandowski.
I understand that view. But as I’ve said before when I described how difficult impeachment would be, this take is, in fact, totally and completely wrong.
There were quite a few people who didn’t get it.
Perhaps they were trying to build an obstruction of Congress case, which was Article III of the Nixon articles of impeachment.
Lewandowski is providing evidence of that today. https://t.co/dr7gtvj3m0
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) September 17, 2019
Yes. The main reason that Lewandowski was brought before the committee wasn’t to show that he’s a liar (even though he is). It was to talk about the obstruction charge involving Trump having him dictate a note for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions so he could un-recuse himself from the special counsel investigation, and also change the direction of the investigation from being about Russia’s past involvement in the 2016 election, and instead make it about future elections. That, of course, would eliminate any and all connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Corey Lewandowski, under questioning by the House Judiciary Committee, confirmed that President Trump once asked him to help pressure the attorney general to curtail the scope of the Mueller investigation. Here are the key moments from Tuesday's hearing. https://t.co/lJ8dP8pIVQ
— NYT Politics (@nytpolitics) September 18, 2019
The goal here was to confirm Lewandowski’s involvement in the obstruction, and that was indeed confirmed by Lewandowski himself.
Even though Lewandowski attempted to block and stymie questions about this note that he dictated from Trump, he ultimately did confirm that the Mueller report was correct: He did dictate the note from Trump. Then, two days after directing White House counsel McGahn to have the special counsel removed, the president made another attempt to affect the course of the Russia investigation.
This is the relevant section from the Mueller report:
On June 19, 2017, the President met one-on-one in the Oval Office with his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, a trusted advisor outside the government, and dictated a message for Lewandowski to deliver to Sessions. The message said that Sessions should publicly announce that, notwithstanding his recusal from the Russia investigation, the investigation was “very unfair” to the President, the President had done nothing wrong, and Sessions planned to meet with the Special Counsel and “let [him] move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections.” Lewandowski said he understood what the President wanted Sessions to do.
One month later, in another private meeting with Lewandowski on July 19, 2017, the President asked about the status of his message for Sessions to limit the Special Counsel investigation to future election interference. Lewandowski told the President that the message would be delivered soon. Hours after that meeting, the President publicly criticized Sessions in an interview with the New York Times, and then issued a series of tweets making it clear that Sessions’s job was in jeopardy. Lewandowski did not want to deliver the President’s message personally, so he asked senior White House official Rick Dearborn to deliver it to Sessions. Dearborn was uncomfortable with the task and did not follow through the note to Jeff Sessions, he tried to have Rick Dearborne pass the note for him, which also failed.
Frankly, having ultimately received confirmation of this, the committee was done. They could pack up and go home. But it got worse.
During his opening statement, Lewandowski loudly announced that he didn’t know of any contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, and he argued that anyone who did get in contact with Russians or tried to “change to outcome of the election should spend their life in jail.” Well, it turns out that Lewandowski knew about Trump adviser George Papadopoulos being in contact with Russians because Papadopoulos sent him—specifically him—an email about it.
Former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was the “high-ranking campaign official” former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos emailed about arranging a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Washington Post reported late Monday.
“Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right,” Papadopoulos wrote in April 2016 to a person identified only as “a high-ranking official of the Campaign” in court documents unsealed Monday.
The Washington Post reported, citing previously described emails that Trump’s campaign handed over to congressional committees, that the campaign official in question was Lewandowski.
In May 2016, according to the court documents, Papadopoulos emailed Lewandowski again to say the “Russian government” had “relayed” to him “that they are interested in hosting Mr. Trump.”
Lewandowski in June 2016 referred Papadopoulos to “the campaign supervisor,” according to court filings, a person Yahoo News identified on Monday as Sam Clovis, who joined Trump’s campaign in August 2015 as a co-chair and policy adviser. Clovis, a non-scientist and open skeptic of climate change, is Trump’s pick to be the USDA’s chief scientist.
According to the court documents, Clovis in August 2016 told Papadopoulos that he “would encourage” him to meet with Russian officials.
While he was discussing with his foreign contacts a potential meeting of campaign officialswith Russian government officials, Papadopoulos kept campaign officials apprised of his efforts.On April 25, 2016, the day before Mifsud told Papadopoulos about the emails, Papadopoulos wroteto senior policy advisor Stephen Miller that “[t]he Russian government has an open invitation byPutin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready,” and that “[t]he advantage of being in Londonis that these governments tend to speak a bit more openly in ‘neutral’ cities.”466 On April 27, 2016, after his meeting with Mifsud, Papadopoulos wrote a second message to Miller stating that “someinteresting messages [were] coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”467 The same day, Papadopoulos sent a similar email to campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, telling Lewandowski that Papadopoulos had “been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host [Trump] and the team when the time is right.”468.
Papadopoulos’s Russia-related communications with Campaign officials continued throughout the spring and summer of 2016. On May 4, 2016, he forwarded to Lewandowski an email from Timofeev raising the possibility of a meeting in Moscow, asking Lewandowski whether that was “something we want to move forward with.”469 The next day, Papadopoulos forwarded the same Timofeev email to Sam Clovis, adding to the top of the email “Russiaupdate.”470 He included the same email in a May 21, 2016 message to senior Campaign official Paul Manafort, under the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump,” stating that“Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”471 Manafort forwarded the message to another Campaign official, without includingPapadopoulos, and stated: “Let[’]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that [Trump] isnot doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the Campaign so as not to sendany signal.”472
On June 1, 2016, Papadopoulos replied to an earlier email chain with Lewandowski abouta Russia visit, asking if Lewandowski “want[ed] to have a call about this topic” and whether “wewere following up with it.”473 After Lewandowski told Papadopoulos to “connect with” Clovisbecause he was “running point,” Papadopoulos emailed Clovis that “the Russian MFA” was askinghim “if Mr. Trump is interested in visiting Russia at some point.”474 Papadopoulos wrote in anemail that he “[w]anted to pass this info along to you for you to decide what’s best to do with itand what message I should send (or to ignore).”474
The court documents state that in April 2016, the professor introduced Papadopoulos via e-mail to an “individual in Moscow” identified as a “Russian national connected to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs” and, alternately, as the “Russian MFA connection.” While this individual’s name is not provided, details of his interactions with Papadopoulos appear to indicate that the person is Ivan Timofeyev, director of programs at the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), a Russian government-backed think tank.That Papadopoulos had communicated with Timofeyev has been widely known since August, when The Washington Post reported on the contents of e-mails between the two men in which the possibility of a visit by Trump to Moscow was discussed. The Washington Post report cited an e-mail to Papadopoulos from Timofeyev in which the Russian political scientist said officials at the Russian Foreign Ministry were amenable to a visit by Trump and that the campaign should submit a formal letter on the matter.
During an interview on Fox News on Tuesday evening, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski claimed the distraction created by Father’s Day resulted in him being unable to remember an email sent to him by former campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. In the email, Page sought and ultimately received permission from Lewandowski to travel to Moscow.
“You have to remember, in the context of the campaign world––now, my memory has been refreshed, but to be clear, from what I understand and what I recall, that email was sent on June 19th of 2016, so about 18 months ago,” Lewandowski said. “It also happened to be Father’s Day on a Sunday, and it also happened to be the day prior to me being terminated from the campaign, so with all due respect, there were many other things on my mind that day other than trying to understand why a volunteer was telling me he may or may not be traveling outside the country.”
From the Mueller report:
Page was eager to accept the invitation to speak at NES, and he sought approval from Trump Campaign officials to make the trip to Russia.556 On May 16, 2016, while that request was still under consideration, Page emailed Clovis, J.D. Gordon, and Walid Phares and suggested that candidate Trump take his place speaking at the commencement ceremony in Moscow.557 On June19, 2016, Page followed up again to request approval to speak at the NES event and to reiterate that NES “would love to have Mr. Trump speak at this annual celebration” in Page’s place.558 Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski responded the same day, saying, “If you want to do this,it would be out side [sic] of your role with the DJT for President campaign. I am certain Mr.Trump will not be able to attend.”559
Also, Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff Rick Dearborn (who is an advisor to the Trump campaign) wrote an email to Lewandowski noting that he’d received an offer from someone referenced as “WV” (who has since been identified as a West Virginian named Rick Clay) to set up a meeting between Trump officials and Putin.
Washington (CNN) A West Virginia man who was a former contractor in Iraq proposed setting up a meeting with Russians and the Trump campaign last year to discuss their “shared Christian values,” raising new questions for investigators to explore as part of their Russia inquiry.Current and former US intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as other intelligence experts, say that Russians sought to employ covert tactics to find entry points into the Trump campaign. And more broadly, experts say, Russian intelligence services have sought to court conservative organizations, including religious groups, to build alliances in the United States.[…]The West Virginia man, Rick Clay, told CNN Friday that he called one of then-candidate Donald Trump’s top aides, Rick Dearborn, to pass along a request from a friend who wanted to set up a meeting with Russians and the Trump campaign.
The person that Clay was attempting to set up a meeting with was Alexander Torshin, the handler for convicted Russian spy Marina Butina. The reports have been that Jared Kushner turned down this meeting, but Don Jr. did not.
CBS News has confirmed that Donald Trump Jr. met with Alexander Torshin – a man with close ties to the Kremlin — at an NRA event in May 2016. Torshin had been trying to set up a meeting with then-candidate Donald Trump but ended up being introduced to Mr. Trump’s son.
A source familiar with the meeting says the two men were introduced to each other by a third party and that the conversation only last about two or three minutes. The source says the conversation centered on the men’s mutual interest in firearms and, as far as the source could recollect, there was no discussion of the campaign.
So if Congress wants to file charges against Lewandowski on the basis of his lying about knowing that members of the Trump campaign were in contact with Russia, that’s an option for them.
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 17, 2019
Contrary to claims by GOP members of the committee who argued that they shouldn’t be talking to Lewandowski, they should also be taking up a bill to address election security. Rep. Raskin pointed out that they had already passed an election security bill, HR8, which has been sitting on Moscow Mitch McConnell’s desk for several months.
On the issue of contempt of Congress, what exactly that would entail is not what some people seem to think. First, there is criminal contempt.
The authority of Congress to cite an individual with criminal contempt is found in Title 2, Section 192 of the U.S. Code. It states that anyone summoned by either house of Congress “to give testimony or to produce papers” regarding any matter of inquiry who “willfully makes default” or “refuses to answer any questions pertinent to the question under inquiry” has committed contempt of Congress.
Penalties for violations (a misdemeanor) include a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term of one to 12 months, which requires prosecution by the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. This means a contempt citation may be a purely symbolic gesture if the DOJ or U.S. Attorney decides not to prosecute. In the case of EPA Administrator Gorsuch, President Reagan — head of the executive branch — had declared those documents off limits due to executive privilege.
Congress has already found Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt, but since the next step would require the case to be taken up by a grand jury under a U.S. attorney, the point is largely moot.
There is also civil contempt.
If the DOJ or U.S. Attorney’s Office refuses to prosecute a case where an individual has been cited for contempt of Congress, lawmakers may pursue a civil suit in federal court. Generally, these actions claim that the members of Congress requesting testimony or documents were denied the ability to exercise their constitutional duties. The court then decides whether the individual cited for contempt of Congress must comply with the congressional subpoena.
The relevant statute (Title 2, Section 288 of the U.S. Code) specifically gives the Senate the power to bring a lawsuit for contempt of Congress. However, federal courts have held that this also applies to House committees seeking enforcement of subpoenas.
Congress has pursued civil contempt on the basis of the refusal to comply with subpoenas by Don McGahn and others. This case was a slam dunk in district court and is currently under appeal, where it looks like it will do very well. How it will do before the U.S. Supreme Court is up in the air, but it’s likely that they won’t take it up at all and leave the appellate decision in place. This would grant the power of a court order behind all of the subpoenas that the committee has previously filed for all of the witnesses that have been denied, including McGahn, Rick Dearborne, and Rob Porter, who can all further confirm the obstruction charges noted in the Mueller report.
The third and final form is inherent contempt.
The third, and least exercised, option is referred to as the inherent contempt power of Congress. This isn’t found in statutory or constitutional language but rather is inferred by the courts as a function of Congress’s legislative powers. The last time this was exercised was in the 1930s, but this was seen more as a way to coerce compliance than as a means of punishment.
The offender, after being cited for contempt of Congress, is tried on the floor of the chamber of Congress invoking the power. If a majority affirms the contempt charge, they may instruct the Sergeant at Arms to arrest the offender and detain them until they comply with the subpoena or until the end of the session. Given the extraordinary nature of congressional detention and its lack of constitutional clarity, it’s often seen as a last-ditch — and unlikely– effort.
This is a fairly extreme power, which again, hasn’t been used since the 1930s. It’s not just a vote by the committee: It has to be a vote by the entire House.
I only saw one representative who called for this.
Lewandowski's obstruction of the Judiciary Committee investigation by invoking a privilege he doesn’t have and one the President doesn’t have in relation to someone not employed by the WH is grounds to hold Lewandowski in inherent contempt and slap a hefty fine on him.
— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) September 17, 2019
They could still do that, and Nancy Pelosi herself has endorsed it, but I think they got what they needed from Lewandowski. Holding him in criminal or civil contempt would send a signal that they won’t put up with this kind of behavior without consequences. But I still doubt they’ll go for inherent contempt, at least not until after they have a Supreme Court ruling on inherent immunity. I would suspect that the first person to try and continue arguing these bogus “immunity” claims after there is a definitive judicial ruling on this issue just might face inherent contempt and be placed in custody by the Sergeant at Arms. We’ll see.
In the meantime, it could be argued that Rep. Hakeem Jeffries did a fine job of calling Lewandowski out for his stonewalling.
Corey Lewandowski didn’t show up to tell the truth.
He came to stonewall and please his boss #CoverUp.
And he failed.
We. Will. Hold. Trump. Accountable.
One way or the other. pic.twitter.com/vboBMT1YQ4
— Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries) September 18, 2019
And here is where Rep. Pramila Jayapal caught Lewandowski in a blatant lie that he was “happy” to come before the committee and answer questions.
— Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa_) September 17, 2019
The right wing repeatedly attempted to portray the FBI investigation as somehow corrupt or misguided.
During this briefing they told the Trumpsters to *Report* any contacts with foreign nationals – They. Didn't. https://t.co/uTLJ6ONbAO
— F. Vyan Walton (@Vyan1) September 18, 2019
Corey Lewandowski was replaced as Trump’s campaign manager after he grabbed a Breitbart reporter and nearly pulled her out of her shoes on June 20, 2016. That was the same day Christopher Steele wrote the first of his memos. Only four days prior to this, on June 16, the Crossfire Hurricane investigation began after the FBI received a heads-up from Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer about the activitie of Papadopoulos, Prof. Mifsud, and his Kremlin contact Ivan Timofeev.
After he won the Republican nomination, Trump and his staff were briefed on security concerns by members of the FBI, on August 17. At this point in time, Corey Lewandowski was working for CNN. During that briefing, they were specifically told that Russians may attempt to infiltrate their campaign, and were instructed to notify the FBI if they made any contacts with foreign agents.
In the weeks after he became the Republican nominee on July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter.
The warning came in the form of a high-level counterintelligence briefing by senior FBI officials, the officials said. A similar briefing was given to Hillary Clinton, they added. They said the briefings, which are commonly provided to presidential nominees, were designed to educate the candidates and their top aides about potential threats from foreign spies.The candidates were urged to alert the FBI about any suspicious overtures to their campaigns, the officials said.
They didn’t. Obviously.
They didn’t mention Timofeyev. They didn’t mention Torshin. They didn’t mention Veselnitskaya. They didn’t mention Konstantinn Kilimnick. Or Oleg Deripaska. Or Guccifer 2.0. Or WikiLeaks. None of them.
Isn’t that something?
It is true that Barry Berke caught Lewandowski in a lie regarding the fact that he knew he was lying about being involved with Jeff Sessions and the special counsel.
Lewandowski, dripping with disdain, all but admits he lied during media interviews, prompting the audience to gasp at his brazenness. Hard to believe this guy is considering a run for US Senate. pic.twitter.com/cwLf3NEI2E
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 17, 2019
That was a dramatic moment in the hearing, when Lewandowski stated that he didn’t need to be truthful with the media. That may have moved the needle but since it came at the end of the hearing, it may have been overlooked by the press. However, it was noticed by the press and the clip has been played quite often since the hearing ended.
That hurt Lewandowski’s credibility, and didn’t do anything for Trump’s credibility and the fact that he had tried to pass the dictated note to Jeff Sessions.
And he got caught.
Then he went on CNN and tried to clean up the mess he’d made when he admitted that he doesn’t tell the truth to the media.
Now, many people attacked CNN for having Lewandowski on after his making that admission, but as you look at the interview that Alisyn Camerota did with him, she directly confronted that subject and further challenged him on his truthfulness. He attempted to pivot to former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, arguing that there is a criminal referral against him for lying to the Inspector General (although it appears that the grand jury didn’t vote to indict). Then, she challenged him on whether he had read the Mueller report, which he admitted he hadn’t read.
Then, amazingly, he deigned to lecture her on what was in the report. “No collusion, no obstruction,” he proclaimed, forcing Camerota to point out that the report didn’t say that. There are more than 1,000 prosecutors who have argued that the Mueller report has shown multiple cases of obstruction of justice, but Lewandowski falls back to AG Barr and deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who decided not to press charges (although under the Office of Legal Counsel rules they couldn’t press charges) against Trump. Do we dare measure Barr and Rosenstein’s credibility against these 1,000 prosecutors?
Yes, of course we do.
And that is exactly the rub: The AG and deputy AG have acted in a biased manner, just like Lewandowski himself. This has afforded them a false sense of security when it comes to the content of the Mueller report. They continue to believe that the report doesn’t include a list of crimes committed by Trump, and yet, it does. When you strip away all the blather and all the deflection, Lewandowski confirmed the essential elements of one of those crimes. It’s likely that they believe, as shown by the reaction on Fox and Friends, that Lewandowski managed to pull out a “win” here. I strongly beg to differ.
This first impeachment hearing may have been messy, but it was ultimately productive. There’s some room for improvement but this won’t be the last hearing, it’s just the first.