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Lewandowski sidesteps questions about Mueller report at House impeachment hearing

Lewandowski questioned about Mueller report

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified about Robert Mueller's report in a combative hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, spending hours fielding questions about an incident in which President Trump asked him to direct the attorney general to curtail the scope of the special counsel's probe.

Lewandowski was defiant from the outset. In his opening statement, he called the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry "unfair," and Republicans on the committee agreed. They condemned the inquiry and unsuccessfully moved to adjourn the hearing.

Asked by Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz about the Democrats' motives, Lewandowski responded, "You know, congressman, I think they hate this president more than they love their country."

During questioning, he often sidestepped and stalled, saying he would not go beyond the contents of the Mueller report. He asked lawmakers to read specific sections of the report to him to "refresh" his memory, and he paused at length to read passages related to the questions posed, all while Democratic lawmakers grew impatient.

Under questioning by the committee's counsel toward the end of the hearing, Lewandowski was asked about answers in television interviews that contradicted the version of events described in the Mueller report. He said he had never lied under oath, but asserted he had "no obligation to be honest to the media."

The incident that was the subject of the hearing took place on June 19, 2017, according to the Mueller report. Then-White House counsel Don McGahn had been directed by the president to have Mueller removed, and Mr. Trump on June 19 met alone in the Oval Office with Lewandowski. He "dictated a message for Lewandowski to deliver to [Jeff] Sessions," the Mueller report said, referring to the attorney general at the time. 

That message said that Sessions "should publicly announce that, notwithstanding his recusal from the Russia investigation, the investigation was 'very unfair' to the President, the President had done nothing wrong, and Sessions planned to meet with the Special Counsel and 'let [him] move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections,'" the report stated.

Lewandowski never delivered the message to Sessions.

Over the course of the hearing, Lewandowski declined to answer some questions about his actions at the time, citing privileged communications with the president and White House counsel, though he has never worked for the Trump administration. Nonetheless, there was some new information that emerged from his testimony.

He offered an explanation for why he never gave Sessions the message. Prodded by Democratic Representative Hank Johnson about whether he "felt a little squeamish about delivering that message," Lewandowski denied that was the case.

"I went on vacation," he said, adding, "I took my kids to the beach, congressman. That was more of a priority."

Johnson theorized that Lewandowski had another reason for not giving Sessions Mr. Trump's message. "You knew that Attorney General Sessions had recused himself at that time, and since he had recused himself, you knew that it would have been against the law for him to comment in any way on that investigation, isn't that right?" 

Lewandowski again denied the implication. Throughout his testimony, Lewandowski maintained that Mr. Trump had never made any improper requests, telling Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen that the president "never asked me to do anything illegal." 

He later said he had wanted to give Sessions the message in a "relaxed atmosphere," but it slipped his mind. According to the Mueller report, Lewandowski relayed the message to Rick Dearborn, a former senior Trump aide. The Mueller report said Dearborn was "uncomfortable with the task and did not follow through." Dearborn and another former White House staffer, Rob Porter, were also subpoenaed to testify before the committee, but the White House blocked them from appearing.

Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler called Lewandowski's sometimes combative testimony "completely unacceptable," and said that holding Lewandowski in contempt of Congress was "certainly under consideration."

The Judiciary Committee voted Thursday in favor of a new resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry and further intensifying its investigation into Mr. Trump. 

Allyson Ross Taylor, Rebecca Kaplan and Emily Tillett contributed to this report.

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