Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing

It didn’t take long for Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Sanders repeats with NH primary win, but with narrower victory Trump campaign chief relocating to Washington: report Lewandowski decides against Senate bid MORE’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to devolve into chaos.

Lewandowski, a former aide and confidant to President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration MORE, refused to answer questions about his appearances in former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s report and repeatedly tangled with Democrats looking to confront him.

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Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenClinton advises checking your voter registration during Trump's State of the Union Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley to boycott State of the Union 10 Democrats to boycott Trump State of the Union address 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 JeffriesLawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts On The Money: Fed chief warns Congress on deficits | Trump blames Powell after Dow dips slightly | Trump withdraws nomination of former US attorney for Treasury post Jeffries: Trump budget is a 'declaration of war on the American dream' 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. JohnsonClinton advises checking your voter registration during Trump's State of the Union Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley to boycott State of the Union 10 Democrats to boycott Trump State of the Union address 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 SessionsOn the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Trump looms as flashpoint in Alabama Senate battle Trump tweets test Attorney General Barr 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 CollinsOvernight Defense: Seven day 'reduction in violence' starts in Afghanistan | US, Taliban plan to sign peace deal Feb. 29 | Trump says top intel job has four candidates Trump says he is considering four candidates for intelligence chief Doug Collins not interested in national intelligence role despite Trump interest MORE (Ga.), the panel’s top Republican, moved to adjourn after claiming that Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Nadler demands answers from Barr on 'new channel' for receiving Ukraine info from Giuliani Trump predicts Ocasio-Cortez will launch primary bid against Schumer 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) GaetzGraham: Trump has 'all the legal authority in the world' to pardon Stone Meghan McCain after Gaetz says Trump should pardon Roger Stone: 'Oh come on' Sunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses 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 CicillineTrump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify Hillicon Valley: US hits Huawei with new charges | Judge orders Pentagon to halt 'war cloud' work amid Amazon challenge | IRS removes guidance on Fortnite game currency Democrats criticize FCC for not taking action against DC station broadcasting Russian disinformation 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 MeadowsLawmakers grill Census Bureau officials after report on cybersecurity issues Conservative lawmakers warn Pelosi about 'rate-setting' surprise billing fix House GOP leader says reassignment of Vindman was appropriate 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 PelosiRussian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter split on Bloomberg video | Sanders briefed on Russian efforts to help campaign | Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight Pelosi blasts Trump's 'dangerous' pick for intelligence chief 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.”