Lewandowski's Lesson: Impeachment Hearings Work

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Author: Dahlia Lithwick
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The most striking moment of Corey Lewandowski’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday came near the end of a long day, when the former Trump campaign manager was surprisingly open in revealing his disdain for the truth. For much of the testimony, Lewandowski alternated between filibustering by slow reading the Mueller report and filibustering by saying he was under White House orders to be silent. He clearly delighted in stymying House Democrats, even as he used the hearing to tease his potential run for Senate in New Hampshire. (During a break, Lewandowski tweeted out a link to the website for a brand new super PAC, “Stand With Corey.”)

At the end, though, came a few key moments when Lewandowski was made to all but openly confess his own lies. This critical portion of the hearing was a disaster for Lewandowski and showed why Democrats should be champing at the bit to hold more hearings like this one, rather than fulminating and hand-wringing over whether they are even taking part in an impeachment inquiry. Lewandowski’s confession should, at minimum, preclude him from ever being booked on a television news program again and in a sane world would instantly doom his nascent Senate run.

Following the frustrated questioning by House members, Barry H. Berke, a private attorney who consults for the committee, put on a cross-examination that should be mandatory viewing for every law student in the history of time. For starters, Berke got Lewandowski to admit that conversations with the president for which Donald Trump was claiming some imaginary version of privilege to block his adviser’s testimony had been recounted in detail in Lewandowski’s own book. Crucially, Berke then further pressed Lewandowski into conceding that he had overtly lied in interviews on national television about matters cited by special counsel Robert Mueller as potential episodes of obstruction of justice by Trump. Finally, Berke opened the door to new questions about whether Lewandowski was granted immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for his Mueller testimony—questions Lewandowski refused to respond to one way or the other, and that would speak to the potential criminality of his and the president’s behavior.It’s important, though, to focus on the lies. First, Berke asked why Lewandowski had told NBC’s Meet the Press early last year that he had not been asked to give testimony for Mueller’s investigation at a time right before his then-secret testimony actually happened. “Oh, I’m sorry.
Nobody in front of Congress has ever lied to the public before. I’m sorry,” Lewandowski said sarcastically. Pressed further, he clarified, “When under oath, I have always told the truth.”

Then Berke turned to an interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber from last February, in which Lewandowski said he couldn’t recall any conversation he had with Trump about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The central obstruction episode in the Mueller report involving Lewandowski—which came straight from his testimony to the special counsel—involved the president requesting that Lewandowski deliver a message to Sessions: that he should ignore his recusal and circumscribe the investigation into Russia’s election interference and presidential obstruction of justice. Berke played the Melber clip, showing the witness asserting “I don’t ever remember the president ever asking me to get involved with Jeff Sessions or with the Department of Justice in any way, shape or form, ever.” Lewandowski had already testified, earlier in Tuesday’s hearing, that the events described in the Mueller report were true and that Trump had him take dictation about a message he should deliver to the attorney general demanding that he limit the Mueller investigation. After playing the MSNBC interview in which Lewandowski said the opposite, Berke asked, “That wasn’t true, was it?”

Lewandowski’s response was stunning: “I have no obligation to be honest to the media. Because they’re just as dishonest as anybody else.” Berke sought to clarify: “So you’re admitting, sir, you were not being truthful?” Lewandowski replied, now in full Dada: “My interview with Ari Melber … can be interpreted any way you like.”

A back-and-forth continued until Lewandowski conceded again: “I have no obligation to have a candid conversation with the media whatsoever, just like they have no obligation to cover me honestly, and they do it inaccurately all the time.” Berke pressed once more: “You are admitting that on national television you were lying there?”

“They have been inaccurate on many occasions,” Lewandowski finally conceded, “and perhaps I was inaccurate that time.”

The main thrust of Berke’s very effective questioning was to demonstrate that Lewandowski, contrary to his testimony, knew that what Trump had asked him to do was wrong—and possibly criminal—which is why he concealed it from the public. But we should also pause, please, to just let the other key takeaway soak in: Lewandowski, on the same day he rolls out a Senate run, says in a nationally televised hearing that he has no duty to be truthful “with the media.” Someone who has been a paid contributor for CNN, then One America News Network, and who has appeared on Fox News and the Sunday talk shows seems to make a distinction between lying “to the media” and lying to the unsuspecting American public that consumes the media.

This is next-level gaslighting. The same witness who announced to the world that he owes a duty of truth under oath, but that he may lie to the press with impunity, is launching a run for high office. The person who spat the words “fake news” at his hearing, in response to questions he didn’t like, boasted about actually creating and disseminating fake news when caught in a lie. There is a special grade of nihilism required to dismiss all unflattering media stories as fake, but the nihilism of dismissing one’s own lies to the press as justified is truly astounding.

Going forward, any news program that books Lewandowski should be shunned, unless he comes with a chyron that read “Possible Liar.” No serious news reporter should ever quote him again without noting that he testified under oath that he is untruthful in his dealings with the press. His political campaign should be covered with the presumption that every press interview may be false. Let’s be clear: Lying to the press is the same as lying to the public. The press asks questions as proxy for the public. It’s not a defense to say you don’t like the press, or the segment of the population that consumes that press, because you are now not just a public official lying to the public, but a public official admitting to and condoning lying to the public.

On Tuesday, Lewandowski did us the classic Trump era favor of saying the quiet parts aloud: He lies to the media. Hardly a surprise from the man who banned the Washington Post from Trump campaign events and was charged with battery for grabbing a Breitbart reporter at a campaign event. He’s seeking to benefit from public doubt in the honesty of the press by seeding more. No reporter should ever speak to him again, and any New Hampshire Senate run should be marked by media refusal to believe anything he says unless it happens under oath. Whatever your feelings about Lewandowski or Trump, the press will only contribute to its own diminishment if it ever quotes a self-confessed liar again. And yes, he was invited on cable news Wednesday morning. And no, it was not about him dancing with a star.

In the meantime, Democrats should also take a lesson from Lewandowski’s self-immolation and the further implication of the president in crimes. It’s not just that there is still such a thing as truth, and that truth will still out, but that impeachment hearings can indeed be quite effective—so long as a professional is doing the questioning. 

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate and hosts the podcast Amicus.

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Source URL: https://portside.org/2019-09-20/lewandowskis-lesson-impeachment-hearings-work