WASHINGTON (CN) – House Democrats and the White House clashed again Tuesday over the administration’s claims of privilege, as former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski repeatedly refused to answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee about his discussions with President Donald Trump that featured in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
On the eve of the hearing, the White House sent a letter to the committee pre-emptively limiting Lewandowski’s testimony by directing him not to discuss conversations he had with Trump or White House advisers beyond what has already been made public in Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.
While the White House claimed these conversations are covered by “long-settled principles protecting executive branch confidentiality interests,” Democrats on the committee objected, calling it an attempt from the administration to stymie congressional investigations.
“The president is intent on obstructing our legitimate oversight; you are aiding him in that obstruction,” House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler told Lewandowski at the hearing Tuesday.
Nadler noted Lewandowski was never a White House employee and said no court has ever backed a theory of privilege like the one the administration claimed to restrict Lewandowski’s testimony. Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said it does not appear Lewandowski was advising Trump in any capacity that would allow the White House to claim privilege on information he might provide Congress.
“I don’t think it is anyone’s privilege to waive because I don’t think it exists,” Raskin said, when Lewandowski told him he did not have liberty to ignore the White House’s directions.
Multiple Democrats asked Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt for his refusal to answer questions, but the committee did not take immediate action to do so. Nadler said later in the hearing that holding Lewandowski in contempt is “certainly under consideration.”
Democrats’ objections notwithstanding, Lewandowski stuck by the privilege claim throughout the hearing, frustrating Democrats as they attempted to glean more information about a key portion of the Mueller report in which Lewandowski plays a large role.
According to Mueller’s report, Trump instructed Lewandowski to ask former Attorney General Jeff Sessions – who at the time was recused from investigations into the campaign – to limit the scope of Mueller’s probe to preventing foreign governments from influencing future elections.
After a scheduling conflict kept Lewandowski from meeting with Sessions in person to deliver a message Trump dictated, Lewandowski delegated the task to former Trump campaign adviser Rick Dearborn. Dearborn never delivered the message to Sessions, according to Mueller’s report.
Though he confirmed the details of the incident as described in the Mueller report, Lewandowski did not offer insights not included in the Mueller report, which was released in April.
In his opening statement, Lewandowski, who is considering a run for Senate, praised Trump and his campaign and at times echoed Trump’s views of the Russia investigation.
“I think that this fake Russia collusion narrative is the greatest crime committed against the American people in a generation, if not ever,” Lewandowski said.
This appeared to catch the eye of the president, who in a tweet called Lewandowski’s opening statement “beautiful.”
During a break in the hearing, Lewandowski tweeted out a link to a website launched by a committee supporting his run for Senate.
Dearborn and former White House Staff Secretary Robert Porter were initially scheduled to testify at Tuesday’s hearing alongside Lewandowski, but the White House wrote to the committee on Monday that it was blocking them from appearing.
“As you know, and as explained further below, in accordance with long-standing bipartisan precedent, senior advisers to the president such as Mr. Dearborn and Mr. Porter may not be compelled to testify before Congress with respect to matters related to their service as senior advisers to the president,” the letter states.
The toughest questioning of Lewandowski came from Barry Berke, consulting counsel for Judiciary Committee Democrats, who was allowed to question Lewandowski based on new rules approved last week over Republican objection that give staff members time to question witnesses at hearings related to the impeachment investigation.
Berke pressed Lewandowski on his interactions with the White House leading up to the events detailed in the Mueller report, recounting passages from Lewandowski’s book that suggested he was under consideration for a job at the White House in the weeks leading up to the meeting with Trump.
While Berke suggested Trump was dangling the job as incentive for Lewandowski to deliver the letter, Lewandowski said that was not the case.
Also under questioning from Berke, Lewandowski would not say whether he refused to answer questions from Mueller unless he had a promise that his words would not be used in a criminal proceeding again him.