“Filibustering is across the hall in the Senate,” joked the committee’s top Republican, Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, who seemed to be enjoying the spectacle and is himself eyeing a promotion to the Senate.
Republicans ultimately accused Nadler of breaking his own rules and tried to force an adjournment of the hearing. The bid failed, but the hearing went downhill from there.
When he wasn’t stalling for time by demanding that Democrats refer to specific passages in Mueller’s 448-page report, Lewandowski was sidestepping questions by deferring to the White House’s other ask, that he not divulge private conversations with the president. “This is clearly just part of the president’s continued attempt to cover up his actions,” Nadler lamented, “his obstructing our congressional investigation by preventing you from telling the American people the truth about his misconduct. He will not succeed, and we will not be deterred.”
The chairman’s colleagues were similarly frustrated. When Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas started talking over Lewandowski’s deflections to the White House, he told her: “I’d be happy to answer your question, or you can have a conversation by yourself.”
Jackson Lee snapped back: “This is House Judiciary, not a house party.”
Democrats tried a different tack, hoping to bait Lewandowski into candor by accusing him of “chickening out” on Trump’s 2017 requests that he transmit a message to Sessions.
“You chickened out?” Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia asked him.
“I went on vacation,” Lewandowski replied, drawing laughs from the hearing room. He explained that between his first and second meetings with the president, he took his family to the beach. At one point, Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island asked Nadler to hold Lewandowski in contempt of Congress.
The best Democratic members could do was elicit confirmation from Lewandowski that he believed that the incidents involving him in the Mueller report were rendered accurately.
If anyone really got to Lewandowski, it was Barry Berke, the attorney Democrats hired to consult on their investigation and the staff member they designated to question the witness after all the lawmakers were done. Republicans had objected to staff members having the opportunity to question Lewandowski, and judging by Berke’s effectiveness, it was clear why they would be concerned. Berke caught Lewandowski in a lie when he played a clip of the former campaign manager saying on MSNBC that he did not recall the president asking him to get involved with Sessions or the Department of Justice. “I have no obligation to be honest with the media, because they are just as dishonest as anybody else,” Lewandowski replied, drawing gasps in the hearing room.
Under questioning from members, however, Lewandowski littered his replies with none-too-subtle praise of the president and critiques of his opponents (including, notably, “the Obama-Biden administration”). Democrats soon realized what his play was.