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 TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades 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 CohenThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point 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 JeffriesLive coverage: Witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses Pelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers Lawmakers turn attention to potential witnesses at Judiciary impeachment hearings 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. JohnsonBlack lawmakers condemn Trump's 'lynching' remarks Maloney to serve as acting Oversight chairwoman after Cummings's death The 13 House Democrats who back Kavanaugh's impeachment 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 SessionsThe shifting impeachment positions of Jonathan Turley Rosenstein, Sessions discussed firing Comey in late 2016 or early 2017: FBI notes Justice Dept releases another round of summaries from Mueller probe 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 CollinsLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Top Republican: Democrats' weekend document dump shows impeachment inquiry is a 'farce' Trump, GOP shift focus from alleged surveillance abuse to Durham Russia probe MORE (Ga.), the panel’s top Republican, moved to adjourn after claiming that Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests Democrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward 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) GaetzDemocrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward Sunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' Gaetz defends Ukraine call: Trump acted on 'sincere' concerns of corruption 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: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests Democrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward Sunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' 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 prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats express confidence in case as impeachment speeds forward Sunday shows — Nadler: A jury would convict Trump in 'three minutes flat' 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 PelosiDemocrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing White House, Democrats strike tentative deal to create Space Force in exchange for federal parental leave benefits: report Trump: Fox News 'panders' to Democrats by having on liberal guests 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.”