Frustrating the Democrats and proving loyalty to President Donald Trump: That’s just good politics for a Republican.
At least that’s what former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared to be banking on Tuesday as he testified before the House Judiciary Committee and continued to tease a possible bid for Senate from New Hampshire.
Not only did fellow Republicans give him ample opportunities to praise the president, he used Twitter to pique interest in the hearing before it started, and during a break sent out a link to a potential campaign website.
Trump won the 2016 Granite State GOP primary with 35 percent of the vote, nearly 20 points more than second-place finisher John Kasich, the governor of Ohio.
Lewandowski — who at times appeared to relish the spotlight as he parried Judiciary Democrats’ questions about whether Trump obstructed special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into 2016 Russian election interference — would be the fourth Republican to jump into the 2020 Senate primary for the opportunity to face off against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
Trump’s base could be the key to coming out first in that crowd.
“Whoever is more closely aligned to Trump will win the primary,” longtime New Hampshire GOP consultant Michael Dennehy said. “If Trump endorses Lewandowski — it’s game over and Corey wins in a landslide.”
Lewandowski led the potential primary field by double digits in multiple polls released last week, though more than half of the respondents to the surveys said they were undecided. The general election could be a different story, however. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 2020 New Hampshire Senate race Likely Democratic.
Shaheen told CQ Roll Call that she did not watch the Judiciary hearing with Lewandowski. “I did not see anything,” she said.
Lewandowski used his opening statement to tout the success of Trump’s 2016 election victory, speaking fondly of “joining the Trump campaign, working through a historic election, and continuing to have the privilege to be part of the greatest political movement in our nation’s history.” In June 2016, Trump fired Lewandowski, seeking a shake-up in the campaign and in the wake of some controversial actions by Lewandowski, including him roughly grabbing a female reporter at an event for the candidate.
Trump praised Lewandowski on Twitter during the hearing for his support.
“Such a beautiful Opening Statement by Corey Lewandowski! Thank you Corey!” the president tweeted.
Democrats were less enthused.
Responding to a question from Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, Lewandowski said Democrats “hate this president more than they love their country.” That prompted New York Democrat Hakeem Jeffries to start his questions with a scolding.
“Before I begin, let me remind you, Mr. Lewandowski, that this is not a Republican primary campaign. You are not on the campaign trail yet. This is the House Judiciary Committee. Act like you know the difference,” Jeffries said.
Before becoming Trump’s top political adviser in 2015, Lewandowski was well-known for baiting his liberal opposition.
“Lewandowski has always enjoyed being a thorn in the side of Democrats dating back to his role as a leader in the Americans for Prosperity movement. Frankly, he is extremely good at it,” Dennehy said.
Republicans on the Judiciary panel were more than willing to help Lewandowski remind the room of how instrumental he was to Trump’s 2016 campaign success.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan lauded Lewandowski for helping Trump navigate a crowded Republican primary field of more than a dozen politically seasoned senators and governors.
“Of course, you had a pretty good candidate,” Jordan said.
“The best,” Lewandowski replied.
Lewandowski was transparent throughout the day about viewing the hearing as a platform for his potential campaign message, even tweeting out a link to a potential campaign website during the hearing’s first five-minute break.
“New website just launched to help a potential Senate run. Sign up now!” he wrote.
New website just launched to help a potential senate run. Sign up now! https://t.co/WlI11PaQ7M— Corey R. Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) September 17, 2019
Before the hearing, Lewandowski tweeted that he was “excited about the opportunity to remind the American people today there was no collusion, no obstruction,” echoing Trump’s mantra on Mueller’s probe and Democrats’ continued investigation into the administration.
“There were lots of angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected president. Tune in,” he wrote.
Excited about the opportunity to remind the American people today there was no collusion no obstruction. There were lots of angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected President. Tune in. #Senate2020.— Corey R. Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) September 17, 2019
At one point during questioning from Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins, Lewandowski pounced on an opportunity to tout his favorite NFL team, honoring the time-honored tradition of politicians cheering on hometown outfits to score brownie points with their sports-minded constituents.
“Patriots. Tom’s a winner,” Lewandowski said, referring to the New England Patriots and their six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady. (It was unclear what effect that had on Collins, a Georgia Republican whose home-state Atlanta Falcons were defeated by the Patriots in Super Bowl LI in 2017 after leading most of the game.)
Lewandowski initially refused to answer questions from Democrats on his meetings in 2017 with Trump or any White House officials without referring directly to a physical copy of the Mueller report, prompting accusations of “stalling” and “filibustering” from a visibly frustrated Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
“Mr. Lewandowski, you are like a fish being cleaned with a spoon — it’s very hard to get an answer out of you,” Georgia Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson said.
Earlier this week, the White House counsel’s office sent Nadler a letter explaining that Lewandowski should not be expected to answer questions beyond what is contained in the Mueller report to safeguard “executive branch confidentiality interests” — which Democrats pointed out is not a legal term.
Nadler summarily dismissed that line of argument Tuesday since Lewandowski was a “private political operative” when Trump summoned him to the Oval Office in 2017 to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking Sessions to shut down Mueller’s investigation. Lewandowski “apparently was not offering advice of any kind—the usual prerequisite for executive privilege — and was enlisted for apparent wrongdoing,” Nadler said.
Despite being under subpoena on Tuesday, Lewandowski sided with the White House.
“Congressman, the White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions with the president or his advisers to protect executive branch confidentiality,” Lewandowski said.
“I recognize this is not my privilege, but I am respecting the White House’s decision,” he said.
Todd Ruger contributed to this report.