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Former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski Testifies in Impeachment Hearing; Polls Close as Israelis Decide Netanyahu's Political Fate. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired September 17, 2019 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): He said the goal is to leave voters feeling as if, quote, "either the institutions are corrupt or you can't trust the vote," end of quote.
This is the kind of disinformation campaign that the KGB runs. And as we all know, Vladimir Putin was a former leader of the KGB.
In 2016, Putin's goal could have been very simple, divide the American electorate, sow seeds of distrust, make it impossible for whoever won our election to govern.
With America weakened at home, we would be weakened on the international stage. Putin wins with a weakened America, regardless of who won the election. This is the kind of approach that has been used by the communists in Russia for nearly a century.
After overthrowing Russian Czar Nicholas II in 1917, Vladimir Putin -- Vladimir Lennon, I'm sorry -- different Vladimir -- and the communists utilized western journalists as propaganda tools to defend communism. New York Times journalist John Reed, for example, defended the Bolsheviks, advocating against American intervention. Lennon used even the term useful idiots to describe how leftist leaning, communist sympathizing Americans could be easily tricked and used to help the -- the Russians.
For the past three years Democrats have focused on undermining America's president instead of working with President Trump and Republicans in Congress to harden our election defenses. I think there would be broad bipartisan support that we need to -- to prevent future election meddling. The Mueller report makes clear that President Trump wanted to focus on protecting our democracy from future attacks. So I have one question, Mr. Lewandowski. It's clear that Putin attacked America with the goal of dividing the American people and today's hearing is being held for the sole purpose of attacking America's president, which will weaken our country on the international stage.
Do you believe that Vladimir Putin is sitting in his office right now in the Kremlin, laughing at what those on the other side of the aisle are doing and believing that those on the other side of the aisle are useful idiots, helping --
JACKSON LEE: Objection, Mr. -- I have a point of order. NADLER: The gentlelady will state her point of order.
JACKSON LEE: I have a point of order. According the rules, and the rules of this committee and the House rules, we cannot attribute derogatory names to our colleagues or motives to our colleagues, and I believe the gentleman said those on the other side of the aisle are idiots. This is a very sacred and somber responsibility. I've taken an oath of office, my good friend, just like you did. I am concerned about the Constitution, just as you are. And I would not engage in any behavior that could be described as idiot. Never in my life or my colleagues have we ever discussed behaving like idiots. Mr. Chairman, that is an inappropriate terminology and description of the members of this house or Republicans or Democrats, no matter what position they are.
NADLER: I will --
JACKSON LEE: Mr. Chairman --
NADLER: I will -- I will overrule -- I will overrule the point of order. The rules of the quorum refer to motive. Calling someone an idiot is not flattering but it does not go to motive. And I believe we should have the most robust debate, I believe we should respect each other, but I don't think we should -- but I don't think that goes to motive and accordingly, I'm going to overrule the point of order. Gentleman will proceed.
BUCK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Actually, I didn't call anybody an idiot, I -- I said useful idiot.
NADLER: Useful idiot.
BUCK: And -- and secondly, I asked the witness whether he believed that as part of Vladimir Putin's strategy, he -- Vladimir Putin, was being aided by useful idiots in -- in America. Your answer, sir?
LEWANDOWSKI: You know, Congressman, I -- I can't be sure to the motives of Vladimir Putin or the Russians who want to interfere with our election process in 2016 but I can be certain of one thing -- Donald Trump was a private citizen at the time, and he had no more responsibility or authority to secure the integrity of the 2016 election cycle than I did. That responsibility fell to the intelligence community and the Obama-Biden administration. They clearly failed. Never did they contact under my tenure me to inform of -- of -- inform me or anyone at the campaign at the time of any potential hacking which may have been transpiring. Never did they contact us to alert us of any potential security violations as it related to the election.
And so I think Mr. Comey, Mr. Brennan and Mr. Clapper ultimately own the responsibilities ahead of the intelligence community to understand why they did not do a better job of protecting the American electorate in 2016 to ensure we didn't have foreign interference.
BUCK: And -- and Mr. Lewandowski, had they contacted you, what would been your response in terms of notifying others on the election in terms of their dealing with Russians?
LEWANDOWSKI: We would have worked with them. I would have recommended working through counsel to work with them to notify them of any potential contacts, which I don't ever recall having, but if we would have had any, I would have made sure we notified the appropriate authorities immediately.
NADLER: Gentleman yields back. The gentleman from Florida.
[14:35:00] DEUTCH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Lewandowski, I just want to follow up on Mr. Johnson, the Mueller report volume two page nine, he says one month later -- which is a month after your June 19 meeting, presumably after you returned vacation -- the president met again with Lewandowski, followed up on the request to have Sessions limit the scope of the Russia investigation. Just to clarify that he did do that. But I want to go back to that meeting on June 19. The president asked you to write down word for word a script that he wanted the attorney general of the United States to deliver, isn't that correct?
NADLER: I'm sorry, can you just give me the reference again, Congressman?
DEUTCH: Well, I'll -- let me do this. Previously you testified, because it's reported in the Mueller report, that the president asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and write this down. This is page 91. This was the first time the president had asked them to take dictation, you wrote as fast as possible. The notes that you took at that meeting are on the screen -- if you could -- I don't know (inaudible) the notes are -- I'm going to read the section of the notes that you took, that were again, this is what you were asked to deliver to the Attorney General of the United States to announce in public.
"I know I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas, but our POTUS is being treated very unfairly, he shouldn't have a Special Prosecutor Counsel because he hasn't done anything wrong. I was on the campaign with him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know for a fact because I was there, he didn't do anything wrong except run the greatest campaign in American history."
That's from page 91. That's -- again, that's what President Trump wanted the Attorney General to say, in public about the Special Counsel's investigation, is that right?
LEWANDOWSKI: I believe that's an accurate representation.
DEUTCH: So this is in June of 2017, you said that you didn't know about -- you didn't know about the Attorney General being barred from speaking participating, speaking out about the Russia investigation.
The public didn't know about all these attempts to influence the investigation at that time, but what we did know -- what everyone knew Mr. Lewandowski was that the president's campaign was under investigation and they knew the Attorney General couldn't touch it because he was a major part of the campaign, he advised on national security matters, and back in March he had recused himself -- he had recused himself from anything having to do with the investigation -- you didn't -- you weren't aware of that, at all? That what he did in March, and the fact that he had recused himself?
LEWANDOWSKI: I was aware of the Attorney General's recusal.
DEUTCH: And so when the president asked you to deliver a speech that he wanted the Attorney General who could not participate in the investigation -- couldn't talk about anything having to do with the investigation, he recused himself. When the president asked you to deliver that word for word speech for him, that -- there was no inconsistency with that and the fact that the Attorney General had recused himself, you knew that he had, and you knew that he couldn't participate in any way?
LEWANDOWSKI: I'm not an attorney, Congressman.
DEUTCH: I'm not asking you as an attorney -- I am, but that's not how -- that's not what I'm asking. I'm just asking you, if you knew that he had recused himself, you did, right?
LEWANDOWSKI: I'm aware of the public reports that Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation.
DEUTCH: And by recusing himself, you're aware of the public reports that -- and what was in his recusal statement on March 2, 2017 that he wasn't going to participate in any existing or future investigations of any matters related to the campaign for president -- you knew that was out there.
So when the president asked you to specifically go in there and ask him to deliver a speech which was contrary to that -- forget about being a lawyer, did it strike you as off in any way, or were you concerned in any way?
LEWANDOWSKI: No, Sir.
DEUTCH: Was it the right decision for Sessions to recuse himself?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well I can't comment on Jeff Session's decision-making process.
DEUTCH: So here's what he -- here's what he did. The script says a group of people want to subvert the Constitution. I'm going to meet with the Special Prosecutors to explain this is very unfair, and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling (ph) for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.
He -- with the president you'll agree was trying to force the investigation to focus only on the future so it didn't focus on him, isn't that right, Mr. Lewandowski?
LEWANDOWSKI: I don't agree with that. DEUTCH: That's not what -- when you look only in the future, and you're not allowed to look at the one investigation in to the present? That's not how you interpret that? You interpret it differently?
LEWANDOWSKI: I think that could be your interpretation.
DEUTCH: It is -- I think it's an obvious interpretation. If we had more time I'd ask what yours is, but I'll just close with this. A month -- he asked you to do this -- he brought you in to talk to the Attorney General because the president was terrified, Mr. Lewandowski.
A month before your meeting the Special Counsel was appointed and the president said, oh my god this is terrible. He wanted you to pressure the Attorney General, someone who wasn't even allowed to talk about the investigation -- to block him from looking at his own conduct.
[14:40:00] Mr. Lewandowski, that's abuse of power -- and as we go on through this investigation I hope you'll be able to further elaborate on how you could have seen this in any other light than the obvious way the president attempted to abuse his power. I yield back.
NADLER: The gentleman's time has expired, the witness may answer the question.
LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you.
NADLER: The gentleman from --
(UNKNOWN): Texas --
NADLER: The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Ratcliffe.
RATCLIFFE: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Lewandowski, welcome to what my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have alternatively described and argued over the past week is an impeachment inquiry. An impeachment investigation, an impeachment probe, and an impeachment proceeding.
Now if you're confused which one, I assure you you're not alone. A lot of the folks that are watching today might be confused, because they might be thinking that impeachment proceedings are supposed to be initiated after a vote by the full House of Representatives, and they'd be right.
But you see, the Democrats, now the party of impeachment tried that three times and failed miserably three times. Twice before the Mueller Report, and then once again after the Mueller Report.
So last week the party of impeachment, which is in charge of this Committee -- changed our rules so that they could get to impeachment in a different way, and Mr. Lewandowski you're lucky, you're the first witness for the party of impeachment's new impeachment procedures --
LEWANDOWSKI: I feel very lucky, thank you.
RATCLIFFE: You should. Now I know that you've testified before the House, before the Senate, and before the Special Counsel -- but in fairness Mr. Lewandowski, that's when my colleagues on the other side of the aisle were promising the American people that there was going to be impeachment by collusion, or impeachment by conspiracy which of course didn't exist -- and the Special Counsel said it didn't exist.
So then they had to shift and say, well now it's going to be impeachment by obstruction of justice -- remember that they promised, they promised that Special Counsel Mueller was going to breathe life in to impeachment by obstruction of justice. But instead he put it to death.
I don't know if you remember, but I asked him can you give me an example other than Donald Trump, where the Justice Department determined that an investigated person was not exonerated because their innocence was not conclusively determined? And his answer was, I cannot -- do you remember that?
So as it turns out, all 200 -- nearly 200 pages of the Mueller Report, and the analysis of -- in Volume 2 of obstruction of justice, was done under a legal standard, and legal burden of proof that is not recognized, and ever been used before in American (inaudible).
But the party of impeachment, they're (ph) going to gloss over that today. They're also going to gloss over the fact that the Inspector General, criminally referred the FBI Director who leaked the information to get the Special Counsel in the first place, and the same Inspector General who found that facts establishing -- that that same FBI Director was in fact targeting Donald Trump at the same time in an investigation where he said he wasn't investigating Donald Trump.
Now you might think that this Committee would be interested in hearing from that Inspector General for the first time, rather than hearing from you for the fourth time -- but maybe you can be helpful, because the party of impeachment, they don't care, Mr. Lewandowski what kind of impeachment you can deliver for them.
There are 135 Democrats and Socialists in the House of Representatives that have publicly come out for impeachment -- they're in agreement the president needs to be impeached, the problem is they've come up with more than a dozen different reasons that they're arguing about are the basis for that impeachment.
We've talked about impeachment by collusion, we've talked about impeachment by conspiracy, we've talked about impeachment by obstruction of justice. Let's cover a few more - impeachment under the emoluments clause. Did the first and only president rich enough to largely self-fund a successful presidential campaign ever admit to you that he secretly ran for president to get rich?
LEWANDOWSKI: No, sir.
LEWANDOWSKI: He's already very rich. RATCLIFFE: Did - do you have any information or evidence, Mr. Lewandowski, about crimes the president committed for ignoring congressional subpoenas as a basis of impeachment?
LEWANDOWSKI: I do not.
RATCLIFFE: How about dangling pardons? Do you know if the president - did he ever admit or say to you that he would pardon anybody in law enforcement who was trying to enforce or protect our territorial borders?
LEWANDOWSKI: At the request of the White House, I can't discuss private conversations that may or may not have occurred with the president.
RATCLIFFE: OK, well how about this one? How about impeachment by using a Sharpie on a hurricane weather map? Did the president ever admit or say to you that he intentionally committed an impeachable high-crime by magic marker as some of my Democratic colleagues are contending?
[14:45:00] LEWANDOWSKI: Again, Congressman, I can't discuss any private conversation I may have had with the president.
RATCLIFFE: Well, I'm sorry. You're frankly not being helpful at all, Mr. Lewandowski. Maybe you don't understand that the party of impeachment, they're not picky at all. They don't even care if you don't have impeachment - if you got anything on Donald Trump, how about on Justice Kavanaugh because this morning now they say they want to impeach Justice Kavanaugh. Have you got anything that supports impeachment of Justice Kavanaugh?
LEWANDOWSKI: He's a good man.
RATCLIFFE: Well listen, I know you're disappointed that you've only been here four times, but don't you think that there isn't going to be another opportunity because this Committee has become the search party for impeachment and they're going to bring back anybody as much as they have to to find something, anything to keep this impeachment hopes alive? I yield back.
NADLER: Gentleman yields back 15 seconds over time. The gentlelady from California.
BASS: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Mr. Lewandowski, I want to follow up from my colleague here, Mr. Deutch. It's clear that the president was desperate for you to deliver the message to Sessions. Everyone else had said no, and he want to great lengths to make sure that you'd be effective in delivering it.
After the president dictated the message, he told you to tell the attorney general that he would be the most popular guy in the country if he delivered that message to limit the investigation to the future. Is that correct?
LEWANDOWSKI: Could you reference me to that in the report, please?
BASS: Yes. It's in volume 2, page 92. So is that correct?
LEWANDOWSKI: I'd like to reference that...
BASS: OK, well while you're looking, I'm going to move on. So the president is telling you how to convince Sessions to do it. It's page 92, first paragraph, to tell Sessions that he'd be the most popular guy in the country if he did what the president ordered.
And the president picked you for a reason because he knew that you had the traits of an enforcer and described yourself and his, quote, "loyal soldier." This was no exception. Did you find it now?
LEWANDOWSKI: I have it here, Congresswoman.
BASS: Me, too (ph). OK, so the attorney general that he would be the most popular guy in the country if he delivered that message. Do you see that on page 92?
LEWANDOWSKI: I do.
BASS: So is that correct?
LEWANDOWSKI: I believe it's accurate.
BASS: And you told the president that you understood what he wanted sessions to do. Is that what you told the special counsel? Same page. And you did understand what the president wanted. He knew not to create a trail.
So looking at the slide, Lewandowski wanted to pass the message to Sessions in person rather than on the phone. Where is that? After you left the Oval Office, you didn't schedule an official meeting with Sessions. Instead, you called the attorney general at home, correct?
LEWANDOWSKI: If that's what's in the report.
BASS: You told Sessions you wanted to meet in person rather than on the phone. You could have just read the message from the president over the phone, but you knew that it would make it harder to persuade Sessions to do what you wanted, so you wanted to meet with him in person, correct?
LEWANDOWSKI: If that's what the report states, yes.
BASS: So the attorney general works at the Department of Justice, but you told the special counsel that you didn't want to meet in the Department of Justice because you knew that If you went into a government building that there's a public log of the visit, and you specifically told the special counsel that you did not want to, quote, "a public law of your - a public log of your visit." Isn't that right?
LEWANDOWSKI: That's accurate?
BASS: So why is that? Why didn't you want to leave a paper trail for your visit?
LEWANDOWSKI: Well, Jeff and I are friends socially and I wanted to have the opportunity to have a meal with Jeff and relay the conversation which the president asked me to ask Jeff to consider giving.
BASS: So if that was the case, then why was there a problem with you having to do it in secret essentially? I mean, it was a very important message you were delivering from the president and it was a message that could certainly be viewed as completely inappropriate considering that you were not even an employee of the White House. You're a private citizen. You're delivering a message to the attorney general to limit the investigation? So if you didn't think you were doing anything wrong, then why would it matter that there was a public log?
LEWANDOWSKI: I wanted to have the opportunity to speak with Jeff in a more relaxed atmosphere and have a meal with him to have the conversation.
BASS: Well, you said that another reason for not meeting at the DOJ was because you, quote, "did not want Sessions to have an advantage over you by meeting on Sessions's turf." Is that right?
LEWANDOWSKI: That's right. I wanted to have a private conversation in a more relaxed atmosphere.
BASS: So again, if this was an appropriate message to deliver and if it was just about that, why would it matter whose turf it was on? Why couldn't you go to his office? You're his friend. Why couldn't you go to his office and meet with him there?
LEWANDOWSKI: I suppose I could have, but I chose to have it - I wanted to have a discussion with Jeff as we have had so many occasions before that.
BASS: Exactly. I mean, I believe it's...
LEWANDOWSKI: Never inside the Department of Justice.
BASS: I believe that Sessions knew that it was wrong and that Sessions cancelled his meeting with you. If you guys were good friends, why would he have bothered to cancel it? Did he call you up to reschedule it?
LEWANDOWSKI: That'd be a question for Jeff Sessions.
BASS: Well, after you testified, and you testified earlier that after the inauguration you didn't communicate with the attorney general, often you're a good friend and you have dinner with. So when you said that you had a message to deliver, isn't it fair to say that Sessions knew you were calling on behalf of the president and that message was from him?
LEWANDOWSKI: I have no idea what was in Jeff Sessions's mind. BASS: Well, to be clear, the attorney general knew it was a message from the president and he still refused to meet with you. Mr. Lewandowski, it's clear to me that Sessions knew what we all know sitting here today that what you were doing was wrong. He wanted to do with your secret messages because he knew it was entirely improper for a private citizen to go behind the backs of the White House Counsel and secretly meet with him somewhere without any record of your meeting on your turf to try to persuade the attorney general to protect the president from investigation into his own misconduct.
Well, you know, you can't protect him anymore, and I'm glad that this misconduct can finally be brought to public attention so that the president can be held accountable.
NADLER: The gentlelady's time has expired. The witness has requested a short recess. The Committee will resume in five minutes. The Committee stands in recess.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: OK. You've been listening to this for nearly an hour here, and this is where we are.
Let's just jump right into analysis.
Laura Coates, first to you.
You know, where do I -- Corey Lewandowski, for the most part, kind of depending on who was asking him what, right, but asserting all of that privilege. He was -- he's been difficult. Can he get away with that?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he is getting away with it. That's the irony here. I think one of the things, the phrases you heard, say, listen, this privilege I know is not mine. He kept saying the privilege is not mine.
He's right about that, because executive privilege is not perspective. You actually have to assert it. You have to say what it's pertaining to and it has to be under the umbrella of executive privilege for the purpose of getting candid from a cabinet member our otherwise. Not because you might respectively in the future might want to do so. Recognize that.
I think Representative Brafken (ph) had the perfect idea saying, hold on a second, now he's gone beyond the four corners of what he told us the reason he wouldn't speak about issues. He's gone beyond the issue simply about what the Mueller report said, answering questions when he chose to do so for Republican members.
And in that respect, he essentially proved he was playing everyone like a fiddle in a way of saying, listen, I'm here to stonewall, to selectively answers questions, and there's an audience of one.
BALDWIN: Who, by the way -- where's the tweet? Read this. Trump was, of course, tuned in on Air Force One. He tweeted, "Such a beautiful opening statement by Corey Lewandowski. Thank you, Corey." Obviously, he is, he's watching.
Carrie, this is millions of dollars. Big picturing this. Millions of dollars, years of investigating. Went through the whole Mueller report. This is hyper-partisan. You know, to both sides. This is where we are?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, so the Democrats are obviously trying to revive the parts of the report. This is the first fact witness who actually is involved as a fact witness from Volume II, the obstruction part of the special counsel's report.
And Corey Lewandowski has been a little bit, I think, as the hour has drawn on, a little inconsistent with the way that he originally was going to approach the hearing.
Very early on, was extremely combative with particularly the Democratic members of the committee. And then he had a statement that presumably was provided by his lawyers or the White House counsel's lawyers that he was reading. He read it several times, saying he was not going to answer any questions about his communications with the president and that he would only stay within the scope of the report.
But as the hearing has drawn on for a little time, he occasionally deviates from that. His response is to Congressman Johnson, he did get into a little bit of answering questions about the president having asked him to deliver a message to former Attorney General Sessions.
And he, in response to Republican witnesses, has been willing to talk about election interference more broadly.
So he's a little bit inconsistent about the way that he is applying the rules that he set out for himself and the White House set for him at the beginning.
BALDWIN: Or perhaps consistent along party lines.
Ladies, stay with me. We want to watch more of this testimony.
We'll take a quick commercial break.
Also the other huge news of the day. Polls are closing in Israel. Will Bibi Netanyahu continue for yet another term? We're watching.
Stand by. You're watching CNN.
BALDWIN: We are back. Just about top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Live pictures there, House Judiciary hearing, testimony from Corey Lewandowski, President Trump's former campaign manager, and it has been tense, is one way to put it.
We'll dip back in, I promise, in just a second.
But huge story today. The fact that Israelis are deciding the fate of Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of Israel. He is seeking his record fifth term.
Let's go to our correspondent, Oren Liebermann, who is in Israel.
Oren, tell me what you know. How's it going?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, we're here at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud headquarters where we're waiting for the exit polls of the night.
And this is one of the most crucial, one of the biggest moments of the night when the main free TV stations here broadcast their exit poll projections and what the results may be.
Let's review quickly.