The beginning of this CNN story reads like a satire of how timid Democrats are about confronting Trump. Quote: “The House Judiciary Committee is preparing to take initial steps to potentially hold former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in contempt over his refusal to answer questions at this week’s hearing before the panel, multiple sources tell CNN.”
“Preparing” to take “initial steps” to “potentially” hold him in contempt?
I would have gone with “Dems are preparing to consider possibly deliberating on first steps towards beginning a contempt charge” for maximum ambivalence.
There’s a fun Democratic civil-war subplot hiding behind this news, though.
[I]t is a process that could take weeks: First, a letter is expected to be sent to Lewandowski asking him to answer questions and warning him he can be held in contempt if he doesn’t answer. Then, they may offer a contempt resolution, officially notice a committee vote and then hold a vote in committee before any floor action.
Some Democrats have been irked by the failure to hold Lewandowski in contempt immediately during the hearing, according to Democratic sources. That flies in the face of current House rules that would have made the process quite cumbersome to immediately hold him in contempt at the hearing…
During Tuesday’s hearing, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler accused the White House of orchestrating “an absolute cover-up” by blocking some witnesses from appearing at the public session and trying to restrict Lewandowski’s testimony based on “crony privilege.”
“Crony privilege” is a good term for the idea that a guy like Lewandowski who’s never worked in the executive branch might have a constitutional right not to answer questions from Congress. Being friends with the president doesn’t generate a legal privilege against testifying. I’m frankly surprised there’s not more of a push among lefties to change the contempt rules described in the excerpt, given how eager progressives have been to upend other norms in order to thwart Trump. They’re willing to pack the Court; they’re prepared to nuke the Senate filibuster once they’re back in charge there; it would stand to reason that they’d want to uncuff the majority’s power to charge uncooperative witnesses with contempt given how many Trump associates have refused to answer questions. Maybe the Lewandowski standoff will jumpstart that effort.
Especially since the White House is laughing in Pelosi’s face about how reluctant she is to play hardball with the president and his associates:
Trump and White House officials, meanwhile, are reveling in Democrats’ difficulties. In fact, the president — who watched Lewandowski’s testimony from Air Force One on Tuesday — was laughing and joking about the hearing, arguing that Democrats have no idea what they’re doing and that no one cared about the Mueller report anymore, according to one person who spoke with him…
Two White House officials suggested that the administration could defy congressional requests because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made it clear she is reluctant about impeachment. They also have calculated that there won’t be a public price to pay for stonewalling Congress, in part because the clock is running out.
There have been no consequences so far in telling Democrats to get bent when they demand information so that’s what POTUS will continue to do. Pelosi’s strategy of refusing to challenge him, especially via impeachment, in the belief that that makes Democratic victory more likely next fall had better pay off for her sake; if it doesn’t, her political legacy within her party may shift from “first woman Speaker” and “overseer of ObamaCare’s passage” to “weak-willed Trump enabler.” She’s gambling a lot here.
But back to that civil-war subplot I mentioned. Nancy’s getting tired of being criticized as the weak link in the caucus because she keeps holding back on impeachment while other Dems, starting with Jerry Nadler, keep signaling that they’re raring to go. So when Nadler let Lewandowski run roughshod over him this week, she was reportedly eager to point it out to her colleagues:
The Judiciary Committee’s decision to proceed against Lewandowski comes after Pelosi told lawmakers in a private meeting Wednesday night that that no witness should be able to treat members of Congress like Lewandowski did during a Tuesday hearing before the committee, according to three people familiar with the exchange who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly.
“I would have held him in contempt right then and there,” Pelosi told members.
Pelosi’s spokesman assured WaPo that that wasn’t meant as a dig at Nadler but “several lawmakers” reportedly took it that way. For good reason: A feud has been brewing between the two for months, with Pelosi so pissed off at Nadler and his committee for trying to race ahead on impeachment that she tore into them at a closed-door Dem meeting last week and invited people in the room to leak what she said. She may have enjoyed the spectacle of Lewandowski sneering at Nadler almost as much as Trump did. For once, by letting Corey get away with it, he was the one who looked weak, not her.
Maybe they’ll join hands now on a contempt resolution, as Lewandowski is likely to be an irresistible target. Normally when House Democrats try to haul in a Trump associate to testify, like Don McGahn, they run into various problems — a potentially valid claim of executive privilege, for starters, plus the fact that McGahn is so little-known among average Americans that it’s difficult to turn him into a political villain capable of galvanizing their base. They don’t have either problem with Corey. His privilege claim is dubious and he’s already a villain to the left by dint of his work on Trump’s 2016 campaign and subsequent cronyism. Not only that but he’s probably running for Senate in New Hampshire, where he may very well be more of a liability to the local GOP than an asset. Democrats thus have every reason to elevate him and have this fight with him. All they stand to lose by holding him in contempt is handing him a few weeks of martyr status on Fox News, and in the meantime they’ll make a lot of lefties happy by having punched one of the less likable Trump hangers-on in the face. I’m surprised they didn’t start the contempt process before the hearing, knowing how it was certain to go.