The most concise way to summarize the September 17 appearance of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski before the House Judiciary Committee would be to describe it merely as a continuation of the Russia collusion circus. At this point, no one is taking these hearings seriously: not the Democrats, not the Republicans, and certainly not Mr. Lewandowski.
The primary substance of the hearing was a focus, by Democrats, on potential obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump, though it hardly mattered. It appeared more like a show-trial of Lewandowski himself – or, perhaps, a trial of Trump in absentia. The material covered during the hearing had already been discussed in numerous previous hearings as well as by the investigation of the former special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Barely had proceedings gotten underway when it became evident that Democrats on the committee had nothing to offer beyond rehashing parts of the Mueller report and perhaps imagining that Lewandowski would magically say something previously unheard.
For his part, the witness remained both unruffled and determined to stick to the Mueller report script, as he had been asked to by the White House. No doubt, Lewandowski was thinking about his run for a Senate seat in New Hampshire in 2020 as he framed his answers to questions from the committee. Several Republicans afforded him the opportunity to opine on the Democrats’ motives, and he did not disappoint.
Democrats on the committee were clearly frustrated with Lewandowski’s responses to their questions, but that is not what stood out in this hearing: Several members of the committee’s majority betrayed a degree of personal hostility toward the witness. Indeed, that hostility was apparent even before the hearing began. After agreeing to appear, Lewandowski was subpoenaed to by Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) for no other reason than out of pure pique, it seems.
When Mueller testified before Congress, he frequently requested that committee members posing questions provide him with references to specific pages and paragraphs in his report. He declined requests to read excerpts and, instead, invited his questioners themselves to read those excerpts. None of the committee members became visibly frustrated with him for employing these obvious stalling tactics. None berated him for appearing entirely unfamiliar with the report that his own team had authored and which lay in front of him. Lewandowski was not treated with the same respect.
The committee had not furnished the former campaign manager with a copy of the Mueller report. In order for him to accurately answer questions related to what was in that report, Lewandowski several times asked for page and paragraph references, which visibly angered his Democrat interrogators.
In response to one of Chairman Nadler’s early questions, Lewandowski asked: “Could you read the exact language of the report? I don’t have it available to me.”
“I don’t think I need to do that,” Nadler replied. “I have limited time.” When the witness went on to request a copy of the report so that he could refresh his memory of the details about which he was being asked, Nadler accused him of filibustering.
The questioning by Democrats was marked by a stream of insults and sarcastic comments entirely unbecoming of elected officials sitting on perhaps the most important House of Representatives committee.
Rep. Steve Cohen (R-TN) called Lewandowski a chicken (for having failed to deliver a message from President Trump to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions). At another point, Cohen described the witness as “some kind of a Forrest Gump.” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) also told Lewandowski “you chickened out” in reference to the same incident. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) at one point asked the witness: “[A]re you the hitman, the bagman, the lookout, or all of the above?”
It was, all in all, a pitiful and ugly display and the vitriol that certain Democrats were unable to conceal is an indication of the fact that such hearings are driven not by any sense of constitutional duty of oversight but by pure hatred of President Trump and anyone associated with him.
Who to Blame for Russian Interference?
Republicans, too, had their angles worked out ahead of time. Several of them made the point that the Judiciary Committee had far more important matters to attend to. They questioned why the committee chair appeared to have no interest in delving into the origins of the Russia investigation.
They questioned why – if the matter of Russia’s interference in American elections wax so concerning – the committee was not grilling Obama administration officials. It was, after all, on the Obama administration’s watch that Russian interference took place. Lewandowski himself summed up Rep. Nadler’s apparent cognitive dissonance most concisely:
“Donald Trump was a private citizen at the time – and he had no more responsibility or authority to secure the integrity of the 2016 election cycle than I did. That responsibility fell to the intelligence community and the Obama-Biden administration, and they clearly failed.”
Whether or not this was, in fact, an “impeachment hearing” depends upon which Democrat one asks and on what day, since several of them have given conflicting portrayals of the purpose of these endless hearings.
Nadler and co. are making no headway at all – that much is clear. No new information has come to light and Democrats have still not made the case that Trump obstructed justice. They believe if they insist enough times that the president is guilty of obstruction, then everyone else will at some point magically decide to agree with them.
Meanwhile, each hearing becomes more farcical than the one before and the president’s own contention – firmly supported at this latest hearing by Mr. Lewandowski – that the entire endeavor is a political witch-hunt seems more and more convincing, even to those who were not already convinced.