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House Dems, Lewandowski Spar           09/18 06:09

   The first impeachment hearing held by House Democrats quickly turned hostile 
as their sole witness, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, 
stonewalled many of their questions and declared they were "focusing on petty 
and personal politics."

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The first impeachment hearing held by House Democrats 
quickly turned hostile as their sole witness, former Trump campaign manager 
Corey Lewandowski, stonewalled many of their questions and declared they were 
"focusing on petty and personal politics."

   Lewandowski, a devoted friend and supporter of President Donald Trump, 
followed White House orders not to discuss conversations with the Republican 
president beyond what was already public in the report by former special 
counsel Robert Mueller. Trump cheered Lewandowski along as he testified on 
Tuesday, tweeting that his opening statement was "beautiful."

   The hearing underscores what has been a central dilemma for the House 
Judiciary Committee all year as they investigate --- and potentially try to 
impeach --- Trump. Many of the Democrats' base supporters want them to move 
quickly to try to remove Trump from office. But the White House has blocked 
their oversight requests at almost every turn, declining to provide new 
documents or allow aides and associates to testify.

   On Tuesday, Lewandowski, who is considering a run for U.S. Senate in New 
Hampshire, defiantly made clear he wouldn't make life easy for the Democrats. 
He demanded that they provide him a copy of the Mueller report, sending 
Democratic staff scrambling to find one. He read directly from the report and 
asked Democrats to read passages to him, showing that he wouldn't say much 
beyond what Mueller wrote. Republicans on the panel forced a series of 
procedural votes, immediately sending the hearing into disarray.

   "He's filibustering," said a frustrated House Judiciary Committee Chairman 
Jerrold Nadler.

   Lewandowski eventually began to answer some questions --- he told the 
committee that he doesn't think Trump "asked me to do anything illegal" --- but 
still stuck mostly to what was already in the report, giving Democrats little 
new information to go on. And he made clear his dislike for the House majority 
in the opening statement, calling them petty and asserting that investigations 
of the president were conducted by "Trump haters."

   Lewandowski was a central figure in Mueller's report, which the committee is 
examining as part of its impeachment probe. The report, which said Trump could 
not be exonerated on obstruction of justice, detailed two episodes in which 
Trump asked Lewandowski to direct then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit 
Mueller's investigation. Trump said that if Sessions would not meet with 
Lewandowski, then Lewandowski should tell Sessions he was fired.

   Lewandowski never delivered the message but asked White House aide Rick 
Dearborn, a former Sessions aide, to do it. Dearborn said he was uncomfortable 
with the request and declined to deliver it, according to the report.

   Under questioning by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Lewandowski confirmed as 
"accurate" that Trump had asked him to deliver the message. At least two 
Democrats asked if he "chickened out." Lewandowski said no, that he took his 
kids to the beach instead.

   And under questioning from a lawyer for the Democrats, Barry Berke, 
Lewandowski acknowledged that he had possibly lied in a cable interview about 
his interactions with Trump when he said he didn't remember the president 
asking him to get involved with Sessions. New rules approved by the committee 
last week for impeachment hearings allow staff questioning at the end of the 
hearing.

   Democrats say the televised hearings are to educate the American people on 
the Mueller report and what they say is egregious behavior by the president. 
They argue that the blockade from the White House and stonewalling from 
witnesses like Lewandowski just gives them more fodder for lawsuits they have 
filed against the administration --- and possible articles of impeachment on 
obstruction.

   "You are also proving our point for the American people to see," Nadler 
said, noting that one of the articles of impeachment drafted against President 
Richard Nixon involved obstruction. He said Lewandowski's behavior is 
"completely unacceptable."

   Two other witnesses who were subpoenaed alongside Lewandowski, Dearborn and 
former White House aide Rob Porter, did not show up at all, on orders from the 
White House. The White House says the former aides are "absolutely immune" from 
testifying --- a principle that Democrats are currently challenging in court.

   The committee's impeachment investigation faces major hurdles, and it's 
still unclear whether the panel will ever draft articles of impeachment or hold 
any impeachment votes. The Republican Senate is certain to rebuff any House 
efforts to bring charges against the president. Moderate Democrats have 
expressed nervousness that the impeachment push could crowd out their other 
accomplishments. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the public sentiment 
isn't yet there.

   Still, the Judiciary panel is moving ahead, last week approving the rules, 
including the staff questioning, for what Nadler said will be an "aggressive 
series" of impeachment hearings this fall. Republicans declined to use their 30 
minutes of staff questioning, arguing that the hearings aren't really 
impeachment because the House never voted to begin an inquiry.

   Tuesday's hearing featured both combative exchanges between Lewandowski and 
Democrats and friendly questions from the Republican side of the dais. The 
witness took personal shots at some Democrats --- calling California Rep. Eric 
Swalwell, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary, "President 
Swalwell," for example. The Democrats taunted Lewandowsi as well, with members 
occasionally reminding him that he was "not yet" a senator.

   Republicans focused their ire on Nadler and the Democrats.

   "They are going to bring back anybody, as much as they have to, to find 
something, anything to keep impeachment hopes alive," Rep. John Ratcliffe, 
R-Texas, told Lewandowski during his round of questioning.

   Lewandowski's political future wound throughout the proceedings, which 
offered him a widely televised platform from which to defend Trump and publicly 
introduce himself on the congressional political stage. A poll last week showed 
Lewandowski would win the GOP nomination for Senate in New Hampshire. Trump has 
offered his support for any bid from the right to challenge Democrat Jeanne 
Shaheen.

   For his part, Lewandowski on Tuesday did nothing to bat down cracks from 
Democrats about his ambitions. And during a break in the hearing, he tweeted a 
link to his new super PAC.


(KR)

 
 
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