Nancy Pelosi says Democrats should have held Corey Lewandowski in contempt "then and there"

Lewandowski repeatedly dodged questions from lawmakers on the House Judiciary panel weighing impeachment this week

Published September 19, 2019 10:45AM (EDT)

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi  (Getty/Mandel Ngan)
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Getty/Mandel Ngan)

In response to his repeated refusal to answer questions from the panel earlier this week about his testimony to former special counsel Robert Mueller, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee should have held Corey Lewandowski in contempt of Congress "then and there."

Made during a closed-door meeting with members of her caucus, Pelosi's comments came one day after Lewandowski, the former campaign manager and loyal confidant of President Donald Trump, took a combative approach as he testified for roughly five hours before the House panel, according to Politico.

At one point during the hearing, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., became so exasperated with Lewandowski's defiance that he demanded he be held in contempt.

"You're not going to stonewall me and my questioning," he told the former Trump staffer.

While the panel's chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., did not move to hold Lewandowski in contempt during the hearing, he left open the possibility of doing so at the end of the hearing.

"Mr. Lewandowski, your behavior in this hearing room has been completely unacceptable. It is part of a pattern of a White House desperate for the American people not to hear the truth," Nadler said after lawmakers concluded their questioning. "I've been asked several times today whether the committee will hold you in contempt. It is certainly under consideration."

Some attendees of the Wednesday night meeting understood Pelosi's remarks as a swipe at Nadler, but a spokesperson for the speaker stressed the comments were solely a "critique of the witness' behavior."

Lewandowski, considering a run for the Senate in Hampshire in 2020, dodged and deflected most questions from lawmakers at the hearing, claiming that he was muzzled by executive privilege from discussing confidential conversations he had with the president, even though he never worked in the White House.

After hours of a mostly fruitless back-and-forth between Lewandowski and Democrats on the panel, Barry Berke, a consultant to the Judiciary Democrats, got him to admit that he lied to the media and knew he was being asked to do something wrong or illegal by Trump.

Lewandowski, a prominent figure in Mueller's report, essentially confirmed to the panel on Tuesday that Trump had directed him to order then-Attorney Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the Mueller's probe to future instances of meddling in U.S. elections — and to stop probing his presidential campaign.

"Jeff and I are friends socially, and I wanted to have the opportunity to have a meal with Jeff and relay the conversation" about curtailing the scope of the special counsel's probe, Lewandowski said, referring to his efforts to deliver Trump's message privately to Sessions, away from his office at the Department of Justice.

In his report, Mueller described an episode in which Trump dictated a message to Lewandowski that he wanted delivered to Sessions: He needed Sessions to give a speech announcing that he would curtail the scope of the investigation. Lewandowski told Trump he understood those instructions, though he never carried out Trump's demand.

Mueller's team concluded there was "substantial evidence" that Trump's actions met the legal threshold for obstruction of justice charges. The former special counsel, however, declined to consider the criminality of Trump's actions, citing Justice guidelines which state that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Pelosi's comments on Wednesday come amid escalating tensions between the speaker and Nadler over how the caucus should proceed on impeachment. Earlier this week, Nadler said he believes Trump should be impeached, while Pelosi remains firmly opposed to the idea, arguing public support for the move is not there. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week finds that just 37 percent of voters favor launching impeachment proceedings.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee described Lewandowski's appearance as their first official "impeachment" hearing, one of several they are planning this fall as the panel's members determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump.

By Shira Tarlo

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