Lewandowski, House Democrats spar at impeachment hearing

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats’ first impeachment hearing quickly turned hostile Tuesday as their sole witness, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, stonewalled many of their questions and said they were “focusing on petty and personal politics.”

Lewandowski, a devoted friend and supporter of President Donald Trump, was following White House orders not to discuss conversations with the president beyond what was already public in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Trump was cheering him along as he testified, tweeting that his opening statement was “beautiful.”

The hearing underscores what has been a central dilemma for House Democrats all year as they try to investigate — and potentially impeach — Trump. Many of the Democrats’ base supporters want them to move quickly to try to remove Trump from office. But the White House has blocked their oversight requests at most every turn, declining to provide new documents or allow former aides to testify.

On Tuesday, Lewandowski made clear he wouldn’t make life easy for the Democrats. He demanded that Democrats provide him a copy of the Mueller report, sending Democratic staff scrambling to find one. He then read directly from report, showing that he wouldn’t say much beyond what Mueller wrote. Republicans on the panel then forced a series of procedural votes, immediately sending the hearing into disarray.

“He’s filibustering,” an irate Nadler said.

Lewandowski eventually began to answer some questions — he told the committee that he doesn’t think “the president asked me to do anything illegal” — but still stuck mostly to what was already in the report, giving Democrats little new information to go on. And he made clear his dislike for the House majority in the opening statement, calling them petty and asserting that investigations of the president were conducted by “Trump haters.”

Democrats say the blockade from the White House and stonewalling from witnesses like Lewandowski just give them more fodder for lawsuits they have filed against the administration — and possible articles of impeachment on obstruction.

Two other witnesses who were subpoenaed alongside Lewandowski, former White House aides Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter, did not show up at all, on orders from the White House.

“This is a cover-up plain and simple,” Nadler said, of the White House orders. “If it were to prevail — especially while the Judiciary Committee is considering whether to recommend articles of impeachment — it would upend the separation of powers as envisioned by our founders.”

The Republican Senate is certain to rebuff any House efforts to bring charges against the president. And moderate Democrats in their own caucus have expressed nervousness that the impeachment push could crowd out their other accomplishments.