UPDATED: Corey Lewandowski’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee might not rise to the level of past recent bombshell hearings of the Trump era, but CNN, MSNBC and Fox News each framed the live event with a word that is just as impactful: “impeachment.”
While the committee is still in the investigative stages before deciding whether to order articles of impeachment, a move that is fraught with political risks, the cable news networks each broke away from regular programming to cover the hearing.
If anything, the coverage did give the networks a degree of drama, with the appearance of Lewandowski, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and outside adviser, who was known for his pugnacious approach to politics and the press.
“It’s now clear that the investigation was populated by many Trump haters to take down a duly elected president,” Lewandowski said in his opening remarks, foreshadowing a lengthy hearing in which he stymied Democrats’ efforts at gleaning more information about his conversations with the president.
That started right off the bat, as Lewandowski asked for a copy of the Mueller Report before he answered House Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler’s questions.
But the drama presented a much more significant legal question. The White House attempted to limit Lewandowski’s testimony only to the facts that were contained in the Mueller Report. But Nadler objected that the Trump administration was trying to invoke executive privilege on Lewandowski’s conversations with the president even though he is not an employee of the administration. The White House already asserted immunity for former Trump aides Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter, who did not appear despite being subpoenaed by the committee.
Lewandowski also made it difficult to even confirm one of the more explosive claims in the Mueller report — that he talked to the president about delivering a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself and narrow the scope of the Mueller investigation. Democrats have seized on that incident as they weigh whether it is evidence that Trump tried to obstruct justice.
Eventually, Lewandowski confirmed the conversation with Trump, but otherwise tried his best not to elaborate in any way.
When Republicans on the committee queried Lewandowski, they blasted the Democrats’ inquiry as a waste of time.
“I think they hate this president more than they love this country,” Lewandowski said in response to a friendly lawmaker, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).
Later in the hearing, under questioning by House Counsel Barry Berke, Lewandowski was challenged to explain why, in an interview with Ari Melber on MSNBC, he claimed that he didn’t remember Trump ever asking him to get involved with Sessions “in any way shape or form.”
“That wasn’t true, was it sir?” Berke asked.
“I heard that,” Lewandowski answered.
“And that was not true, was it?” Berke replied.
“I have no obligation to be honest with the media because they are just as dishonest as anybody else,” Lewandowski answered, to some gasps in the hearing room.
None of the theatrics were unexpected. Lewandowski is mulling a run for Senate in New Hampshire, and he has remained one of Trump’s most loyal defenders.
“Lewandowski is probably likely to be like a cat playing a mouse here,” Fox News’ chief White House correspondent John Roberts said on air just before the hearing started.
“No one speaks Trump as fluently as Corey Lewandowski,” said CNN’s Dana Bash.
Lewandowski’s stonewalling got repetitive enough throughout that day that the news networks began to cut away to other stories.
The broadcast networks did not break away for special coverage of the hearing, as they did when Robert Mueller testified in July.
That inevitably will change if Democrats take the inquiry to the next level — hearings on actual articles of impeachment.