WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski insisted Tuesday that President Trump’s wasn’t asking him to do anything illegal in interfering with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the 2016 campaign.
According to Mueller's report, Trump dictated a specific message that Lewandowski wrote down and agreed to deliver to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, even though Sessions had dramatically recused himself from any involvement.
Trump wanted Sessions to declare, despite the recusal, that he was going to meet with Mueller to tell the special counsel the investigation is unfair, and that Sessions would let him move ahead investigating Russian meddling in future elections.
To legal observers, it looks like obstruction of justice, although Mueller wrote in his report that Justice Department policy bars charging a sitting president with a crime.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) wanted to know if Lewandowski thought the request was problematic.
"You didn't think it would have been illegal for you to ask Mr. Sessions to drop the investigation, and go 'We're going to start with the next one about colluding about Russia?' You didn't think that was illegal to obstruct justice?" Cohen asked.
"Congressman, the president didn't ask me to do anything illegal," Lewandowski said.
Lewandowski didn't actually deliver the message, and instead locked it in his safe, and asked a White House aide, Rick Dearborn, to deliver the message. Dearborn refused.
Lewandowski also tried to set up a private lunch meeting with Sessions to deliver the message. According to the Mueller report, Lewandowski did not want the meeting logged at the Department of Justice.
Asked if he did that to avoid scrutiny because he knew it was wrong, Lewandowski insisted, "I wanted to have the opportunity to have a meal with Jeff in a more relaxed atmosphere."
It was one of the relatively rare instances when Lewandowski directly answered a question from a Democrat.
The hearing was supposed include Dearborn and another former White House official, Rob Porter, but the White House and Department of Justice barred them from appearing.
The White House also ordered Lewandowski to testify to nothing outside of the the specific details in the Mueller report, on the grounds of protecting executive privilege. Lewandowski was not ever employed at the White House.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) hammered the White House and Lewandowski.
“No court has ever said that the President is entitled to confidentiality under these circumstances,"Nadler said. "The Department of Justice has said executive privilege should not be invoked to conceal evidence of wrongdoing on the part of executive officers. The White House is advancing a new and dangerous theory: the crony privilege."
Much of the hearing was spent with Lewandowski and Republicans accusing Democrats of playing politics with what they said was a phony impeachment inquiry.
Lewandowski impugned Democrats' motives directly.
“I think they hate this president more than they love their country,” Lewandowski said.