The circumstances may not have seemed historic at first blush, but the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing yesterday since establishing the parameters of its impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. The result was dramatic in more ways than one.
The hearing was supposed to feature testimony from former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn and former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, both of whom were featured several times in Robert Mueller's special counsel report, both of whom were witnesses to potential presidential criminal behavior, and both of whom were instructed by the White House not to speak to the Judiciary Committee.
Corey Lewandowski, the first of Trump's three 2016 campaign managers, did agree to participate in the proceedings, but it's tough to describe his testimony as "cooperation." The Republican operative, eyeing a U.S. Senate campaign in New Hampshire, seemed eager to do everything he could to turn the hearing into a food fight -- to the president's delight.
It was, to be sure, a frustrating afternoon. Trump refused to allow his former White House aides to testify, and he instructed a private citizen -- who never worked in the White House -- not to answer relevant questions about alleged misdeeds he personally witnessed. The idea that the president has the authority to block legitimate federal investigations because he feels like is, to put it mildly, problematic.
That said, I think Jonathan Allen's piece for NBC News gets this right: Trump was far happier with yesterday's hearing than he probably should have been.
The first hearing of the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee's effort to develop articles of impeachment against Trump was a contentious affair in which Lewandowski, Trump's 2016 campaign manager and the lone witness, said Democrats "hate this president more than they love their country."But no one -- not Lewandowski nor committee Republicans -- seriously disputed the central theme of the day: that Trump had gone to extreme lengths in circumventing the entirety of the federal government to get Lewandowski to instruct then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly announce that the president had done nothing wrong and limit the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe in 2017.Ultimately, Lewandowski put flesh on the bones that Mueller gave the committee in his report.
None of this was good news for Team Trump.
Lewandowski obviously did himself no favors, admitting at one point during the proceedings that he lied during a nationally televised interview. But as Rachel noted on the show last night, Trump's former campaign manager also said he considers the information in the Mueller report to be "accurate."
And that's no small thing. The special counsel's findings implicated Lewandowski in a presidential scheme to obstruct justice. In fact, Mueller's report is fairly specific on this, pointing to a June 2017 incident in which Trump directly asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, telling the AG to stop Mueller from investigating the Trump campaign and/or the 2016 election.
On a related note, the special counsel also found that the president told Lewandowski -- again, a private citizen with no legal or official authority -- that if Sessions resisted, Lewandowski should take it upon himself to fire the attorney general.
And according to Lewandowski's testimony, the information in the Mueller report is "accurate." Maybe the president didn't watch enough of the hearing.
Postscript: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) is considering an attempt to hold Lewandowski in contempt for his refusals to fully cooperate yesterday. Watch this space.