The House Judiciary Committee held a highly contentious impeachment hearing Tuesday, which included repeated clashes between congressional Democrats and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
Democrats admonished Lewandowski for often failing to answer their questions. Lewandowski cited a White House letter that suggested he could not discuss his conversations with the president, even though he never worked for the White House and does not have executive privilege.
Republicans called the proceeding a “fake impeachment hearing” and a “farce,” questioning why lawmakers were again poring over the report by former special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The hearing devolved into a political spectacle during its first few hours, as Lewandowski bobbed and wove through questioning, never failing to push back when he saw an opportunity.
“Congresswoman, I’d be happy to answer your question or you can just have a conversation by yourself,” he said at one point to Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee.
She responded curtly, “This is House Judiciary, not a house party.”
Lewandowski testified for more than five hours, rarely giving an inch. At one point, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., lowered the temperature a bit and got Lewandowski to acknowledge that Trump asked him to help limit Muller’s investigation into Russian meddling.
According to the Mueller report, Trump asked Lewandowski to suggest to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he should curb the special counsel’s investigation into the 2016 election.
“You felt a little squeamish about delivering that message, correct?” Johnson asked. Lewandowski denied that he did, though he acknowledged the message was not passed along.
Johnson then suggested that Lewandowski “chickened out” by not giving Sessions the message. Lewandowski said he went on vacation.
The hearing marked the beginning of a new series of efforts by House Democrats to ramp up impeachment proceedings, which have been sharply criticized by Republicans.
A divided House Judiciary Committee voted last week to formalize guidelines for impeachment, which includes rules that allow the panel’s staff to question witnesses.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, a D-N.Y., has said an impeachment inquiry — or impeach investigation — is underway, regardless of how people want to parse the issue. He said both terms are interchangeable.
“There is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature,” Nadler said at a hearing last week.
If it’s an impeachment inquiry, why doesn’t House Speaker Pelosi say so?
More than half of House Democrats, over 130, have said they favor an impeachment inquiry. If an inquiry is underway, then why does House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decline to use that term?
Republicans argue that Pelosi and Democratic leaders are trying to have it both ways — carrying out impeachment proceedings while not taking an up-or-down vote by the full House of Representatives.
The ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., reiterated on Tuesday that he doesn’t believe an impeachment inquiry is actually underway.
Pelosi has steadfastly stayed away from specifically stating a formal impeachment inquiry has begun. She rejected suggestions that Americans are confused about impeachment and what is happening.
“Legislate, investigate, litigate,” she said at a news conference last week. “That’s the path that we’ve been on, and that’s the path we continue to be on.”
The impeachment battle is also taking place in the courts, where House Democrats continue to pursue the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn through a subpoena.
The Justice Department is fighting the House Judiciary Committee’s effort to gain access to secret grand jury material from the Mueller investigation.
But as Nadler has himself acknowledged, Democrats also need to convince the public that the impeachment hearings are important. He said if they don’t, there may not be a full vote by the House on articles of impeachment.
While the hearings will continue, it remains unclear exactly when and how they will end.
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