Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing

It didn’t take long for Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiGeorgia ready for unpredictable Senate race Trump on Harris dropping out of race: 'We will miss you Kamala!' Key takeaways from first public impeachment hearing MORE’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to devolve into chaos.

Lewandowski, a former aide and confidant to President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE, refused to answer questions about his appearances in former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE’s report and repeatedly tangled with Democrats looking to confront him.

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Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenOvernight Defense: Dems unveil impeachment articles against Trump | Saudi military flight students grounded after shooting | Defense bill takes heat from progressives | Pentagon watchdog to probe use of personnel on border Democrats unveil articles of impeachment against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment MORE (D-Tenn.) called Trump’s former campaign manager a “loyal soldier” who “chickened out” of carrying through with the president’s orders, while Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - An unusual day: Impeachment plus a trade deal Pelosi's whiplash moment brings praise and criticism The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today MORE (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, claimed the witness was there to “participate in a cover-up.”

Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonParties clash as impeachment articles move closer to House vote Judiciary Democrat says as a black man 'the idea that elections can be undermined is not theoretical' Black lawmakers condemn Trump's 'lynching' remarks MORE (D-Ga.) topped them all by comparing the questioning of Lewandowski to the cleaning of a fish.

“Lewandowski, you are like a fish being cleaned with a spoon — very hard to get a clean answer from you,” he said.

Lewandowski was one of three witnesses the panel had hoped to speak to on Tuesday, but was the only one to show up.

He’s the first witness to appear as part of Judiciary’s probe into possible obstruction of justice by Trump, which meant he did make a form of history on Tuesday.

Democrats focused much of their questioning on Trump’s request that Lewandowski deliver a 2017 letter to then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsLisa Page sues DOJ, FBI over alleged privacy violations Sessions leads GOP Senate primary field in Alabama, internal poll shows Trump rebukes FBI chief Wray over inspector general's Russia inquiry MORE asking that Sessions set new limits on Mueller’s probe. They see it as a key part of their case that Trump obstructed justice by interfering with Mueller.

In response, Lewandowski said a vacation with his family prevented him from relaying the message to Sessions.

Lewandowski, who pledged in his opening statement to be cooperative and forthright, repeatedly declined to answer questions about conversations with the president and repeatedly pointed to White House claims of executive privilege — even though he never worked in the White House.

The White House had asked Lewandowski, who is mulling a Senate campaign in New Hampshire, to only discuss matters that are laid out in the publicly released version of the Mueller report.

Lewandowski, who has been steadfastly loyal to Trump inside and outside his political operation, went beyond that request by declining to discuss his conversations with the president and at times stating that his memory needed to be refreshed.

When Lewandowski did provide answers, it was at the defense of Trump.

“The president never asked me to do anything illegal,” Lewandowski told Cohen, though he did confirm his involvement in relaying the message to Sessions. 

He also claimed that the Mueller probe, which did not find sufficient evidence to determine members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia, was a crime in and of itself.

“I think that this fake Russia collusion narrative is the greatest crime committed against the American people in our generation, if not ever,” Lewandowski said after a GOP member gave him the floor to describe the consequences of the Mueller probe. “Members of certain bodies refuse to accept those election results.”

Lewandowski, who quickly earned the praise of Trump on Twitter, also used the spotlight to tease his potential Senate run.

During a mid-afternoon break in the hearing, he announced the launch of a new website in a tweet. The site included photos of Lewandowski and Trump, with the president offering the testimonial “I think Corey would be fantastic” for the Senate race.  

The president later tweeted a video of Lewandowski’s performance, something that looked like an endorsement of what he had seen.

Republicans on the panel described the hearing as both partisan and trivial.

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Parties clash as impeachment articles move closer to House vote House passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers MORE (Ga.), the panel’s top Republican, moved to adjourn after claiming that Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers Collins accusing Democrats of 'tearing down a world leader' GOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures MORE (D-N.Y.) had violated the committee’s rules by using more than five minutes for his questioning. Democrats said that was because of Lewandowski’s stalling.

GOP members also accused Democrats of failing to prioritize other important matters.

“It is a shame you are here, Mr. Lewandowski,” said Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzParties clash as impeachment articles move closer to House vote Rand Paul: 'We need to re-examine' US-Saudi relationship after Florida shooting GOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures MORE (R-Fla.), who accused Democrats of seeking to “tar and feather the president.”

Parts of the hearing were difficult to follow as Lewandowski and members repeatedly talked over one another and as members quarreled among themselves. 

Democrats, who planned for Lewandowski to be a hostile witness, did not avoid jumping into the political circus.

“You are not going to stonewall me and my questions,” snapped Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Parties clash as impeachment articles move closer to House vote Comey, Schiff to be interviewed by Fox's Chris Wallace MORE (D-R.I.) after Lewandowski started to read from the Mueller report. 

Cicilline later raised the prospect of holding Lewandowski in contempt, claiming that he had engaged in obstructive behavior. Nadler said he would keep take his proposal under consideration.

“This is the House Judiciary Committee, not a house party,” Lee told Lewandowski.

The hearing attracted a number of well-known people.

David Bossie, who served as Trump’s deputy campaign manager, sat behind Lewandowski during his testimony. Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMeadows says he's advocating for Trump to add Alan Dershowitz to impeachment defense team State Department, Nuclear Regulatory Commission ranked the worst agencies on IT issues Trump abandons plan to dissolve Office of Personnel Management: report MORE (R-N.C.), who is not a member of the Judiciary Committee, sat with GOP committee members.

Democrats have been divided over their impeachment strategy, with some lawmakers criticizing a process that has left members confused over whether they are in an impeachment process.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats seek leverage for trial The Memo: Pelosi-Trump trade deal provokes debate on left MORE (D-Calif.) has avoided formally launching an inquiry, believing it could hurt some swing-district members.

Some Democrats hoped bringing in witnesses like Lewandowski would help build their case, but it wasn’t clear that Tuesday had provided evidence for the theory.

Democrats had hoped to hold a joint hearing with Lewandowski and two former White House aides, Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn. The White House blocked the other two officials from testifying, while setting limitations on Lewandowski’s testimony. 

And even then, Lewandowski proved unwilling to give information that is already public, despite describing himself as an “open book.”