WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Corey Lewandowski, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and close confidant, said he was “excited” to have an opportunity to defend his former boss in testimony later on Tuesday to a Democratic-led U.S. congressional panel considering impeaching Trump.
FILE PHOTO: Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski departs after appearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
The White House on Monday told Lewandowski not to discuss conversations he had with Trump after he became president including an exchange that Democrats view as evidence that Trump committed obstruction of justice by trying to interfere in a federal investigation and may need to be impeached.
Lewandowski is set to become the first impeachment witness to appear before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee since former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified in July about his inquiry that detailed Russian 2016 election interference and Trump’s actions to impede the investigation.
The hearing appears likely to produce more political theater than factual revelations. Ahead of his testimony, Lewandowski wrote on Twitter that he was “excited about the opportunity to remind the American people today there was no collusion no obstruction.”
“There were lots of angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected president. Tune in. #Senate2020,” wrote Lewandowski, who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in New Hampshire.
Mueller’s report described Lewandowski as a Trump “devotee” with a “close” relationship with the president.
The hearing is set to begin at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT).
“This isn’t a campaign rally. This is the first hearing where you can tell the American people how you participated in the president’s effort to obstruct justice,” Democratic Representative David Cicilline wrote on Twitter.
Democrats, who hope to decide whether to recommend Trump’s impeachment to the full House by year’s end, had intended to grill Lewandowski about the president’s effort to persuade then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to redirect the Mueller probe away from the 2016 Trump election campaign.
The episode is among a number of incidents contained in Mueller’s 448-page investigative report made public in April that Democrats view as evidence that Trump obstructed justice.
Mueller made no determination about whether Trump obstructed justice but did not exonerate him of wrongdoing.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the House has the power to vote to impeach a president while the Senate then would hold a trial on whether to remove him from office. The House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Trump’s fellow Republicans.
WHITE HOUSE ASSERTION
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told the committee in a letter on Monday that Lewandowski could not testify about conversations with Trump after he became president or with his senior advisers.
The White House also directed two other witnesses, former Trump White House aides Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn, not to testify. Cipollone’s letter said they were “absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters related to their service as senior advisers to the President.”
“Mr. Lewandowski will testify before Congress regarding matters already made public in the Mueller report. Any information about his communications with the president or with senior advisers to the president not already disclosed in the Mueller report, however, remains confidential,” White House spokesman Steven Groves said in a statement.
The Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Democrat Jerrold Nadler, called the White House move a “shocking and dangerous assertion of executive privilege and absolute immunity.”
“If he were to prevail in this cover-up while the Judiciary Committee is considering whether to recommend articles of impeachment, he would upend the separation of powers as envisioned by our founders,” Nadler said in a statement, referring to Trump.
In June 2017, Trump met Lewandowski, then a private citizen, at the White House and dictated a message he was to deliver to Sessions. The message said Sessions should shift the Russia probe’s focus to future elections despite his recusal from the investigation.
At a second meeting a month later, Trump asked about the status of the message and said Lewandowski should “tell Sessions he was fired” if he would not meet with Lewandowski, according to the Mueller report.
Reporting by David Morgan; Additional reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney and Will Dunham