WASHINGTON — Democrats investigating whether to recommend that the House impeach President Trump will take turns on Tuesday publicly questioning one of his most outspoken supporters: Corey Lewandowski.
Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager and continued confidant, Mr. Lewandowski was enlisted in an ultimately unsuccessful scheme by the president in the summer of 2017 to significantly curtail the special counsel’s investigation, effectively ending scrutiny of his campaign. The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, eventually found out about it and included it among the roughly 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump documented in his report and now being studied by the House Judiciary Committee.
But if Democrats on the committee hope that Mr. Lewandowski’s public confirmation of the written report can jump-start their impeachment case, their sharp-tongued witness has goals of his own: to aggressively defend Mr. Trump and possibly to even jump-start his own potential Senate campaign in New Hampshire.
The hearing in the Judiciary Committee chambers is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Eastern and should last through much of the afternoon.
Here’s what you need to know before the hearing starts.
Mr. Trump enlisted Mr. Lewandowski to get the special counsel off his back. Mr. Mueller then wrote about it.
Mr. Lewandowski pops up frequently in Mr. Mueller’s more than 400-page report, including in its discussion of Trump campaign contacts with Russians. But the Judiciary Committee’s primary area of interest centers on Mr. Lewandowski’s interactions with Mr. Trump in the summer of 2017, when the president was trying through various channels to influence the work of the special counsel, then newly appointed.
As Mr. Mueller recounts in Volume II of his report, on possible obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump, the president met with Mr. Lewandowski in the Oval Office in June 2017 only two days after he directed Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel at the time, to fire the special counsel. This time, Mr. Trump criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation and asked Mr. Lewandowski to deliver the attorney general a message that he dictated on the spot.
It said that Mr. Sessions should give a speech announcing that Mr. Trump had been treated unfairly and that he would limit the scope of the special counsel investigation. According to notes Mr. Lewandowski shared with Mr. Mueller’s team, the dictation continued:
Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. I am going to meet with the special prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the special prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.
Mr. Lewandowski said he would deliver the message, but the request languished. Mr. Trump followed up during another Oval Office meeting in July, and Mr. Lewandowski told the special counsel that the president told him if Mr. Sessions would not meet with him, he should tell the attorney general he was fired.
Instead of delivering the message, Mr. Lewandowski tried to enlist the help of Rick A. Dearborn, a former Sessions aide who worked in the White House. Ultimately, neither man communicated the message to the attorney general, but Mr. Trump would continue to publicly criticize Mr. Sessions and privately seek his removal.
Democrats want to re-create the findings, but don’t expect many new facts.
The Democrats’ investigation has been plodding so far, in large part because of the White House’s repeated intervention to block the appearances of key witnesses. They hope Mr. Lewandowski can help change that.
His appearance will be the first time the Judiciary Committee will hear publicly from a fact witness to the events that Mr. Mueller chronicles. And though the White House has also put limitations on his testimony — he is permitted to speak only about his work for the Trump campaign and material included in the public version of Mr. Mueller’s report, limiting any new fact-finding — Democrats still feel there is ample ground for them to cover.
To that end, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the committee’s chairman, and other Democrats will be laboring to try to bring portions of Mr. Mueller’s dense written report to life for rolling television cameras.
Mr. Lewandowski is not going to play gently.
Because he will be under oath, Mr. Lewandowski may have little choice but to publicly confirm again what he privately told Mr. Mueller. But that doesn’t mean he can’t turn himself into a firecracker of a witness, loudly distracting from presidential obstruction and showering Democrats in sparks and smoke.
In a Twitter post early Tuesday, Mr. Lewandowski offered a sample of what was come.
He may have also previewed his brawling approach in an interview last month with Fox News Radio when he called Democrats on the committee “such phonies,” accused Mr. Nadler of being captive to “the far left wing” and said the whole inquiry could be attributed to Democrats’ refusal to accept a simple fact: “Donald Trump destroyed Hillary Clinton by a massive electoral margin.”
“I’m happy to come, right, because I want to explain that there was no collusion, that there was no obstruction,” Mr. Lewandowski said. “I am an open book. I want to go and remind the American people that these guys are on a witch hunt.”
He can expect ample help from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, who are lined up in opposition to the Democratic majority’s moves.
Mr. Trump has delighted in Mr. Lewandowski’s possible run, telling a packed arena in Manchester, N.H., last month that his former campaign manager was “fantastic” and would be “tough to beat.” But the possibility is also rattling some of the most powerful Republicans in Mr. Lewandowski’s home state, who fear he would accelerate the destruction of what’s left of New England’s genteel politics.
The White House ordered two other former senior officials not to show up.
The witness table at Tuesday’s hearing was supposed to be a good deal more crowded. Democrats had issued subpoenas for Mr. Dearborn and Rob Porter, the former White House staff secretary, to appear with Mr. Lewandowski.
But on Monday, the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, told the committee that Mr. Trump had directed both men not to show up because they were “absolutely immune” from congressional subpoenas as former senior presidential advisers.
If that claim sounds familiar, it is. The White House has asserted that same immunity claim over other potential witnesses, most notably Mr. McGahn, the former White House counsel who is omnipresent in Mr. Mueller’s report.
The House filed a lawsuit in federal court last month challenging the claim in the case of Mr. McGahn. And a ruling in that case could affect whether Mr. Dearborn and Mr. Porter ultimately have to testify. In the meantime, late Monday, Mr. Nadler called the White House’s position “a shocking and dangerous assertion of executive privilege and absolute immunity.”
What is going on with the Democrats’ impeachment investigation?
There has been ample confusion in recent days about the state of the Democrats’ investigation, some of it intentionally fanned by Republicans. But part of the problem seems to be that Democrats do not agree on how serious they are about impeachment.
Mr. Nadler insists his committee is carrying out a full-bore impeachment investigation intended to determine whether or not the Judiciary Committee should draft articles of impeachment and recommend them to the full House. He and other Democrats on the committee have become increasingly outspoken in recent weeks, and on Monday, the chairman leapt ahead to say he was ready to vote in support of impeachment, but cautioned that he would have to try to pull the country and his caucus along first.
“In my personal opinion, impeachment is imperative, not because he is going to be removed from office — the Senate won’t do that — but because we have to vindicate the Constitution,” Mr. Nadler said.
Democratic leaders are in favor of the investigation advancing at this stage, but they are far more hesitant to back an impeachment vote itself. Speaker Nancy Pelosi consistently portrays the committee’s work as just one piece of a larger investigative, legislative and legal strategy to hold Mr. Trump accountable, and she has resisted using the term “impeachment inquiry.”
Many moderates in the caucus, who are needed to hold the Democratic majority, are fearful the I-word is drowning out their legislative work on health care and the economy, issues that they believe are far more pressing for their districts.
Perhaps of the most consequence for now, Democrats are united in pushing ahead with calling witnesses and convening hearings on conduct they believe could potentially be impeachable. That includes areas beyond just Mr. Mueller’s findings, like whether Mr. Trump’s businesses are illegally profiting off spending by foreign and domestic governments and reports that he dangled pardons to immigration officials hesitant to enforce his policies.