- Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, but refused to answer questions about events that took place during the campaign and his conversations with President Donald Trump since then.
- Lewandowski is the latest official to stonewall the committee as it probes Russia’s election interference and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow.
- Lewandowski was present during a number of critical events that investigators are keenly focused on.
Corey Lewandowski, who served as Donald Trump’s first campaign manager, testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday as the panel investigates Russia’s interference in the election and whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the race in his favour.
Lewandowski spearheaded the campaign operation until June 20, 2016 and was a top official during a number of critical events that have drawn investigators’ scrutiny, but his answers on Wednesday appeared to frustrate lawmakers, particularly Democrats, on the committee.
Ranking member Adam Schiff said Lewandowski’s apparent refusal to answer questions about events that took place during the Trump campaign, as well as his conversations with Trump since then, was “completely unacceptable.”
He added, “Yesterday, [Lewandowski] said on Fox that he would answer every question that we had. Today, however, he refused.”
Lewandowski’s testimony came one day after former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon answered questions from the panel. Initially, citing executive privilege, Bannon also refused to answer questions surrounding his work on the Trump transition team and in the White House, reportedly at the direction of the White House counsel’s office. The committee subsequently subpoenaed him.
Lewandowski’s reluctance, NBC News reported, was not based on the possibility that Trump may claim executive privilege to prevent him from disclosing details about key events. Rather, Lewandowski said he was not prepared to answer certain questions and suggested returning at a later date.
Schiff expressed frustration at what he characterised as the committee’s unwillingness to compel Lewandowski to testify the way it did with Bannon. “We, as an investigative committee, cannot allow that to become the routine, to allow witnesses to decide when and where they’re willing to answer questions.”
Lewandowski’s presence and elevated rank on the Trump campaign could make him a key figure as congressional committees and the FBI probe Russia’s US-election meddling and whether the campaign colluded with Moscow.
He was overseeing the campaign when, on June 9, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer and a former Soviet military intelligence officer-turned-lobbyist at Trump Tower. Also at the meeting were Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser, and Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman.
Trump Jr. initially said in a statement last year that the meeting did not involve official campaign business. The statement had to be amended several times, however, after it emerged that he accepted the meeting when he was offered kompromat on then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Trump’s lawyers have denied any knowledge of the meeting. But the president invited scrutiny when The Washington Post reported that he “dictated” the initially misleading statement his son offered last July in response to reports about the meeting. Congressional and FBI investigators are said to be zeroing in on the meeting, as well as Trump’s role in crafting the statement.
Lewandowski was also one of several senior officials who communicated with George Papadopoulos, who served as an early foreign-policy adviser to the campaign.
Papadopoulos was charged in late October with one count of making false statements to investigators about his Russia contacts. He is now believed to be cooperating with Mueller’s team.
In one email sent in April 2016, Papadopoulos wrote to Lewandowski, “Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host [Trump] and the team when the time is right.”
The next month, according to the special counsel’s filing about the Papadopoulos charge, he touched base with Lewandowski again, saying the Russian government had “relayed” to him “that they are interested in hosting Mr. Trump.”
Lewandowski redirected Papadopoulos to “the campaign supervisor,” who turned out to be the campaign’s national co-chairman, Sam Clovis.
Clovis said that there were “legal issues we need to mitigate, meeting with foreign officials as a private citizen.”
Papadopoulos persisted, however, and sent the same email to Manafort on May 21, two days after Manafort was named campaign chairman. “Russia has been eager to meet with Mr. Trump for some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss,” the email said.
Manafort then forwarded the email to another campaign official and said, “Let’s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
A little over a month later, campaign foreign-policy adviser Carter Page travelled to Moscow on a trip that was reportedly approved by Lewandowski. Page took a “leave of absence” in September 2016, after news of his July trip emerged, and the campaign later denied its connection to him.
Lewandowski told Politico that he had never “met or spoken to Carter Page in my life.”
He also downplayed his contacts with Papadopoulos, telling NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie that because he received so many emails every day, he couldn’t recall whether he had been a recipient of Papadopoulos’ messages. He echoed the White House’s claim that Papadopoulos was a “low level volunteer” who was “never a person who was interacting with senior management on a regular basis.”
But Papadopoulos’ role appeared to be more elevated than that. In addition to being in frequent communication with top campaign officials, the adviser was tapped to edit an outline of Trump’s first major foreign-policy speech in April 2016, which emphasised a desire for closer US-Russia ties.
Following the speech, Papadopoulos touched base with Ivan Timofeev, a senior official at the Russian International Affairs Council, and said it was “the signal to meet,” according to The New York Times.
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