The supporting cast
5. Committee staff
A very small army of professional staff members stand behind elected officials in any congressional proceeding. In this case, a mix of Democratic and Republican aides who specialize in investigations and committee rules are advising the lawmakers on the finer points of their debate. Pressed against their chests or tightly rolled in their hands are legal papers and procedural documents that undergird the committee’s work. When they aren’t embroiled in mid-hearing flare-ups like this one, they help craft strategy, write speeches, draft scripts for questioning witnesses and attempt to keep the business of the committee on track.
Not pictured (but a looming presence)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi
As the Democrats’ leader, Ms. Pelosi overshadows the entire debate, quietly approving every move Mr. Nadler has made even as she tends to the tricky politics of impeachment in a party that is deeply divided over the issue. As the Judiciary Committee has intensified its talk of impeaching the president, Ms. Pelosi has maintained the skeptical stance she adopted months ago when she said doing so was “just not worth it.” Though she has not ruled it out entirely, she argues the House has not yet built a strong enough case, and must stay its current course of investigating and fighting the president in court.
The tensions between Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Nadler and the Judiciary Committee have increasingly spilled into public since Congress returned from summer recess last week. Though she has signed off on each of the panel’s actions, she has pointedly declined to use the phrase “impeachment investigation,” and in one private meeting last week, first reported by Politico, she took a thinly veiled swipe at the committee and its staff for pushing too aggressively on the process given that some Democrats are not yet sold on it, according to people familiar with her remarks. Supporters of impeachment fear she is trying to sow confusion to justify not going down that road.
Not pictured (but on the witness stand)
Try as Democrats might, they struggled at points on Tuesday to keep the focus on their witness and the story he had to tell about Mr. Trump’s attempts to enlist him in mid-2017 to drastically curtail the Russia investigation. Mr. Lewandowski, a pugnacious loyalist of Mr. Trump’s who is considering a Senate run in New Hampshire, was never going to make it easy. He dodged questions based on orders from the White House, taunted Democrats in the hearing room and, even as he confirmed key details about possible obstruction of justice, declared the president had never asked him to do a “anything illegal.”
Though Mr. Lewandowski is the first fact witness to show up for public testimony before the Judiciary panel, his blockade was part of a larger White House effort to stonewall the committee’s work. It has repeatedly intervened to direct former officials at the center of the case not to testify and slow-walked the production of documents, making it far more difficult for Democrats to create the kind of vivid hearings that could generate more public interest.