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Lewandowski frustrates Democrats with short responses in House Judiciary Committee hearing

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Ahead of his appearance, the White House had instructed Lewandowski to discuss only matters covered in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report -- and indeed, Lewandowski refused to answer numerous questions from members of the committee. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Mueller report is back in the headlines today.

    The first witness mentioned in the special counsel's investigation appeared before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to answer questions on obstruction of justice.

    Our Lisa Desjardins was there, and she begins with this report.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Democrats have been waiting for this opportunity.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.J.:

    The Committee on the Judiciary will come to order.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    An open hearing with Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager who remained in touch with the president when he was in office. He also saw the hearing as an opportunity to defend the president.

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    The investigation was populated by many Trump haters, who had their own agenda, to take down a duly elected president of the United States. As for actual collusion or conspiracy, there was none.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Lewandowski ran Mr. Trump's presidential campaign through the early 2016 primaries, getting radiant praise from his boss after their crushing victory in New Hampshire.

  • President Donald Trump:

    He was the first one that talked about us possibly winning the whole big ball game, and he's tough and he's smart.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Problems with delegate math and other issues pushed Lewandowski out that summer. He didn't work in the Trump White House. But Lewandowski defended the president on television and stayed in Mr. Trump's orbit.

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    Which is talking to the president on a fairly regular basis.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Which is one reason he landed in the Mueller report. Democrats have been keenly interested in a section in volume two dealing with whether the president obstructed justice.

    The report lays out how, in May of 2017, Mueller began his investigation. Just one month later, the report states, the president called Lewandowski to the White House for a one-on-one meeting, dictating a message for him to take to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    It directed Sessions to give a speech announcing the president was being mistreated, and Mueller would have to limit his investigation to future campaigns, not Trump or his team.

    For this appearance, the White House told the Judiciary Committee Lewandowski could speak only to material in the Mueller report, and no other interactions with President or candidate Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now.

    So, Lisa, what were the Democrats trying, hoping to show here about the Mueller report?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    About the Mueller report specifically, Judy, Democrats were focused on one portion of volume two that we just mentioned.

    They wanted to get Corey Lewandowski to talk about that moment that he testified between himself and President Trump where President Trump asked him to direct the attorney general to essentially make sure he couldn't be investigated, to make sure that President Trump himself couldn't be investigated.

    But, Judy, I'm not sure that Democrats got the sounds that they wanted out of Corey Lewandowski. He was very dismissive of the Mueller report in general. In fact, he said he never read it.

    And for every question he asked, where specifically in the report is that, he soaked up time doing that. And he repeatedly seemed — either refused to answer questions or took a long time answering them. That raised a lot of frustration for Democrats.

    They didn't really bring out any information and very little sound from Mr. Lewandowski on that. In fact, it was a circus at the beginning of this hearing. Later, it calmed down.

    But here are a few examples of what I'm talking about, Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline, also Representative Pramila Jayapal.

    Here, Cicilline is asking why he didn't follow through on the president's order for him to talk to the attorney general.

  • Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:

    Just to be clear, although you were not working for the president in any capacity, you wanted to give the president the impression that you were going to follow his orders, correct?

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    No.

  • Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:

    Well, you said, I'm going to take care of it.

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    Is that referenced in the report?

  • Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:

    Did you tell the president you were going to deliver the message?

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    I can't comment on private conversations. The president has reserved executive privilege.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:

    I'm sorry?

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    I can read you the exact statement again, if you would like me to.

    As I said, the White House has directed me that I not disclose the substance of any discussions with the president or his advisers to protect executive privilege confidentiality.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:

    Reclaiming my time. You're not going to stonewall me and my questioning.

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    Would you like me to answer your question?

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.:

    You were dictated those notes by the president, correct?

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    I believe that's in the report.

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.:

    And you told the special counsel the president has dictated a message to you, and you said, write this down. This is volume two, page 91.

    And you gave the notes to the special counsel. Correct?

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    I can't speak to the way the special counsel conducted their investigation.

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.:

    Did you give the notes to the special counsel? This is not about how the special counsel conducted its investigation. It's about whether you gave the notes to the special counsel.

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    That's a question for special counsel Mueller.

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.:

    Those were your notes, Mr. Lewandowski. They were in your safe. They were dictated to you and written down by you. Did you give them to the special counsel?

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    I comply with all legal and lawful requests of the special counsel.

  • Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.:

    Well, obviously, you are once again obstructing our investigation by refusing to answer questions that…

  • Corey Lewandowski:

    I have just answered your question. I said I comply with all requests by the special counsel.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This was very typical of the now five hours and running of this hearing today, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, your reporting is, though, that the Democrats had another goal in all of this, one that maybe they're happier about the result from?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think that's right.

    A more pragmatic goal for Democrats was to show that Corey Lewandowski and, more importantly to them, President Trump and his White House, are obstructing justice in this probe itself by preventing him from answering questions, by saying that two top aides, Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter, who were also subpoenaed to testify today, were not able to because the White House blocked them from doing so.

    All of that, the Democrats are arguing, shows a pattern of obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress that they think may be impeachable itself later on or at least give them an argument to the courts.

    Here is House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler talking about this as he was in a back-and-forth with Mr. Lewandowski.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    When you refuse to answer these questions, you are obstructing the work of our committee. You are also proving our point to the American people to see.

    The president is intent on obstructing our legitimate oversight. You are aiding him in that obstruction.

    And I will remind you that Article 3 of the impeachment against President Nixon was based on obstruction of Congress. You are instructed to answer the question.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And that Article 3, Judy, that Nadler was talking about specifically was about the Nixon White House refusing to testify and answer to subpoenas before the House Judiciary Committee.

    So that is a very important layer of the case that House Democrats are trying to make.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, Lisa, tell us what Republicans are saying about all this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Republicans are building a separate case. They say they're trying to show that they think House Democrats are trying to replay the 2016 election. They made a case repeatedly today that Democrats are moving out of emotion, out of a tremendous bias against this president.

    They do not see this — or they say they don't see it as a fact-finding investigation. And that certainly played with how you could see Mr. Lewandowski. He walked into the hearing room, Judy. I noticed, and I asked him, his pin was an American flag with the presidential seal on it.

    He was there making a statement of loyalty to the president, and he basically told Democrats that he felt this investigation was their attempt to overturn the last election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's remarkable, another remarkable hearing.

    And you're right. It takes us right back to the Mueller report.

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

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