Lawmakers look to take a final crack at Lewandowski

Lawmakers look to take a final crack at Lewandowski
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Former Trump campaign manager Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiThe problem with hindsight Whistleblower: Cambridge Analytica met with Lewandowski before Trump campaign launch Trump-connected lobbyist working for Ukrainian opposition leader MORE is scheduled to appear for his second interview before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday in what some view as perhaps the last witness testimony in the beleaguered panel’s yearlong investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Lewandowski is appearing before the panel after infuriating Democrats when he told lawmakers in January that he was not prepared to answer questions that related to any interactions he has had with President TrumpDonald John TrumpPoll: Both parties need to do more on drug prices Senate approves .3 trillion spending bill, sending to Trump White House: Trump will delay steel tariffs for EU, six countries MORE after he left the campaign in June 2016. Democrats demanded Lewandowski be subpoenaed to respond.

The former campaign official is one of a string of witnesses who have declined to answer some lawmaker questions, either by asserting some form of executive privilege or –– in Lewandowski’s case –– by claiming to be unprepared.

While those refusals have left Democrats apoplectic, Republicans have largely expressed tolerance as they prepare to wind down their investigation. Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon's refusal in January to answer questions sparked a bipartisan subpoena at the time, but momentum to enforce the order appears to have puttered out.

Lewandowski, GOP lawmakers say, presents an entirely different case from Bannon. They blame Democrats for asking questions that were beyond the scope of the interview that Lewandowski’s lawyer was expecting.

“What Corey kept telling us was, ‘I’m not telling you I won’t answer your questions, I’m telling you my lawyer didn’t prep me [to answer questions related to the period after he left the campaign],’” Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyHouse Judiciary chair subpoenas DOJ for FBI documents House Judiciary chair to subpoena for FBI documents Trump lawyer John Dowd resigns MORE (R-S.C.) said Wednesday, adding, “I don’t think Republicans are going to have a ton of questions for Corey tomorrow.”

Several Republican lawmakers told The Hill they see no reason to bring Lewandowski back before the panel.

“I hope so — I don’t even think that he should be coming back,” Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyRepublicans on defensive over Russia report finding Top Russia probe Republican: It's 'clear' Putin tried to hurt Hillary Mueller marches on, while the House GOP covers up MORE (R-Fla.) said when asked if Lewandowski would be the last witness the panel would interview.

Frustrated Democrats say Lewandowski made an inappropriate bid to assert a form of privilege that, as a private citizen, he does not have a legal basis to claim — and they have accused Republicans of allowing witnesses to get away with it.

The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFive takeaways from Mark Zuckerberg's media blitz House Intel votes to release report in Russia probe Top Intel Dem: Minority 'absolutely' plans to continue Russia witness interviews MORE (Calif.), called Lewandowski’s unwillingness to answer certain questions in January “completely unacceptable.”

“He has expressed a willingness to come back and answer these questions, but to me that is unacceptable to have a witness come before us and decide that for the purposes of today’s interview, these are categories of questions I’m placing off-limits,” Schiff said at the time.

Among the questions Lewandowski refused to answer, Schiff said, was whether he had discussed his testimony with Trump prior to the interview.

Lewandowski was ousted from Trump's campaign in the summer of 2016 amid questions about the then-presumptive GOP nominee's campaign strategy and reported infighting among staffers. Trump had stood by his embattled campaign chief for months after he was charged with simple battery for grabbing a reporter's arm.

The former campaign hand did not join the administration after Trump entered office, instead founding a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. Still, he has claimed to have maintained a relationship with the Trump White House.

Lewandowski did not respond to a request for comment for this story on Wednesday.

The divide over the need to compel Lewandowski’s testimony is yet another public display of the toxic partisan split on the House Intelligence panel as it limps towards the end of a year of bitter and fractious infighting over the Russia probe.

Republicans say they have thoroughly examined Moscow’s influence on the 2016 election and they are ready to conclude the probe. They have interviewed every plausible witness who might be able to shed light on potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, they say.

Some are expressing frustration at what they see as a congressional panel pulled out of its lane. The investigation, some say, is inappropriately being used to root out criminal behavior — the purview of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE — rather than provide government oversight or policy directives.

Democrats, meanwhile, say shutting down the probe now is premature. They accuse Republicans of going soft on important witnesses and shutting down the probe in order to shield the president from scrutiny.

“We're being shut off,” Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyHouse Intel Dem criticizes Trump for not taking ‘responsibility’ for mistake in congratulating Putin Carson: Some 'not comfortable' with transgender people in homeless shelters House Intel Dem: Lewandowski dodged many Trump questions as not 'pertinent' MORE (D-Ill.) said Monday on CNN.

“If I had to predict, in the next month they will shut down the House and Senate investigations and I would imagine they would cheer on the White House attempt to shut down Mueller,” he added.

Republicans and Democrats are expected to produce two separate reports detailing their investigatory conclusions, while growing animus over the House investigation has left many lawmakers openly distrustful and weary of their colleagues.

Both have accused the other party of weaponized leaks from closed-door interviews and private documents.

“‘White lies’ was a pivot point for me, from which there can be no return,” Rooney said, referring to media reports detailing former White House communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksWhite House race to replace Hope Hicks has two lead contenders Hicks almost left WH months before she announced her resignation: report Kelly tells White House staff no more personnel changes coming MORE’s closed-door testimony last week. Hicks reportedly told lawmakers that she occasionally told “white lies” on behalf the president.

Rooney, who is one of three Republicans leading the investigation, is retiring at the end of his term.

“I really feel so jaded with this process,” he added of the investigation.

–– Olivia Beavers contributed