House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), in opening remarks before the testimony of Corey Lewandowski, said, “Today’s hearing is entitled ‘Presidential Obstruction of Justice and Abuse of Power.’ This hearing is the first one formally designated under the Committee’s procedures adopted last week in connection with our investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to President Trump.”
He explained, “We subpoenaed three witnesses to this hearing: Rick Dearborn, Rob Porter, and Corey Lewandowski. Unfortunately, we learned last night that the White House is blocking the first two from even showing up, and tightly limiting the third. The White House has no authority, legal or otherwise, to give these orders.”
To be clear, the president has no authority to tell a witness not to show up. The president has no absolute immunity to prevent ex-aides from testifying. And he really has no basis for instructing a private citizen who never served in the White House to obstruct an investigation. And that is what he did, according to Lewandowski.
In response to a slew of fact-based questions, Lewandowski responded: “The White House has directed me not to disclose the subject of any discussions.” In short, he is not answering questions under oath in an impeachment hearing because President Trump told him not to.
Lewandowski is on thin ice — well, maybe hip-deep in water — if the House goes to court. I cannot think of any basis for a court to allow him to get away with such nonsense. Lewandowski will appeal, and depending on whether the court stays the order or not, Lewandowski may be ordered back to testify. If he still refuses, then we will know Trump instructed Lewandowski to violate a court order.
And so it goes. At this point the most glaring obstruction, the most comprehensible, is the president’s obstruction of impeachment hearings. If a president can prevent the House from formulating impeachment articles, then the president has literally no constitutional restraint on his conduct.
“This is a circus. It’s Trump making a mockery of our system of government, and its checks and balances, because he is afraid of what will happen if the American people ever hear the truth,” says former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance.
Congress should go to court to compel Lewandowski’s attendance. One of the questions they can ask him, if he ever testifies, is who precisely told him not to answer questions. Was it Trump? If not, did he understand the order to come from Trump?
For now, the House seems prepared to pivot to another critical topic: Trump’s unconstitutional receipt of foreign emoluments and use of his office to direct business to his own properties. This is corruption, plain and simple, and because it is, this is another way to impress upon the public the president’s unfitness.
Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has vowed to follow the facts. As difficult as it must be, the House must continue to fight in court to require the cooperation of witnesses. At some point, the obstruction article becomes the obstruction of an investigation into obstruction.
Welcome to the Trump era.
UPDATE: Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe weighs in: “Communications by the president to a crony asking the latter to carry out a criminal act on the president’s behalf are covered by no privilege and subject to no immunity, and the president’s lawyers as well as the Justice Department lawyers must know as much.” He added, “Today’s spectacle was just another chapter in the ongoing criminal obstruction of justice in which this president has been engaged for well over a year, obstruction of justice designed to cover up the president’s illicit dealings with a hostile foreign power to help him acquire his office and to hold onto it.”