For a brief moment, obstruction of the Russia investigation was last week’s big Trump scandal. For five hours, Corey Lewandowski’s Sept. 17 hearing before the House Judiciary Committee was tough to watch. But those who persevered to the end saw Lewandowski confirm facts proving that Trump had obstructed justice. The question now is what Congress, the media, and the country will do about it.
Here’s how it unfolded.
Act #1: Obstructing the Investigation into Obstruction
Prior to his appearance, Lewandowski promised belligerence toward Democratic members questioning him. He got an important 11th-hour assist from the White House counsel, who told Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) late on Sept. 16 that Trump had directed Lewandowski to limit his testimony to matters in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Lewandowski’s combative opening statement prompted an immediate tweet from Trump:
When the Democrats started asking questions, Republican members interrupted with frivolous points of order, parliamentary inquiries, requests for roll call votes, and diversions to side issues. Their obstreperous conduct continued for the rest of the day.
During the first 10-minute break in the hearing, Lewandowski tweeted a link to a new Super PAC website that supports his increasingly likely candidacy for a US Senate seat in New Hampshire:
As the afternoon slipped away, many Democratic members of the committee used their allotted five minutes for self-satisfying speeches that no one wanted to hear. As Americans tuned out, cable news networks ended live coverage. The Lewandowski/Trump/GOP strategy — obstructing the investigation into Trump’s obstruction — seemed to be succeeding.
Act #2: The Truth Emerges
Viewers who watched C-Span for the final 30 minutes of the hearing observed a skilled trial attorney at work. He should have gone first. Barry Berke, a seasoned litigator on a leave of absence from his law firm, led Lewandowski through a cross-examination establishing that Trump obstructed justice.
Here’s the resulting narrative:
- Lewandowski testified — as he had repeatedly throughout the hearing — that everything in Mueller’s report was “accurate.” (Although he says he’s never read it.)
- Initially, Lewandowski invoked the White House letter to avoid answering questions about a late May 2017 meeting with Trump in the Oval Office. But his effort failed because Lewandowski had already disclosed the episode in his book, Let Trump Be Trump. (Among its notable lines about Trump world: “Loyalty is the currency of the realm.”)
- Around the time of that Oval Office meeting, senior members of the Trump administration dangled before Lewandowski the possibility that he would become a White House senior adviser equal to Jared Kushner. In that role, he would “run the Russia investigation.”
- Less than a month later, on June 19, 2017, Lewandowski was in the Oval Office again, where Trump dictated a message that he asked Lewandowski to deliver to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions was to give a speech announcing his “unrecusal” from the Russia investigation and limiting Mueller’s probe to future elections only.
- Lewandowski agreed to deliver the message, but he didn’t want a public log of his visit to Sessions at the Justice Department.
- Lewandowski then asked Trump’s deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn to deliver the message.
- On July 19, 2017, Trump asked Lewandowski if he had delivered the message.
All of that adds up to presidential obstruction of justice. In fact, Berke implied that before speaking with Mueller, Lewandowski demanded immunity for his own potential criminal exposure arising from the episode. Lewandowski refused to answer those questions.
If you cherish truth and the rule of law, spend 30 minutes watching Berke’s cross-examination here:
Act #3: The Media Aftermath
In any previous administration, first-hand testimony confirming that the President of the United States had obstructed justice — especially by attempting to interfere with a federal investigation into his winning campaign for the presidency — would generate front-page headlines. That didn’t happen.
The Sept. 18 print edition of The New York Times relegated its report on the hearing to page A-16: “Testimony, but No Details, That It Wasn’t ‘Anything Illegal.’” It didn’t include Berke’s withering cross-examination. (An online article added “Key Moments From Corey Lewandowski’s Testimony Before Congress.”) The Wall Street Journal print edition contained a short article on page A4: “Trump Aide Rebuffs Panel.” The Washington Post report on the hearing appeared on page A8: “Ex-campaign manager’s testimony frustrates House Democrats, delights Trump.”
As for television, Berke also confronted Lewandowski with his previous lies on national TV relating to Trump, Sessions, and the Russia investigation:
Asked if he’d been a truth-teller in connection with one of the most important political scandals in American history, Lewandowski said, “I have no obligation to be honest with the media… I have no obligation to have a candid conversation with the media whatsoever.”
But Lewandowski — who wants to become the next US senator from New Hampshire — wasn’t just lying to the media. He was using the media as a vehicle for disseminating lies to the public. Yet only hours after his startling admission, CNN and Fox & Friends booked him to appear on their programs for the following morning.
Sometimes the purpose of a lie isn’t just to get an audience to believe it. The goal is to instill doubt about everything and render the truth elusive.