Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that Corey Lewandowski deserved to be held in contempt of Congress for his combative performance before the House Judiciary Committee, where the former Trump campaign manager repeatedly refused to answer questions about his testimony to special counsel Robert Mueller.
Pelosi told Democrats during a private meeting on Wednesday that Democrats should have held Lewandowski in contempt “then and there,” according to multiple sources in the room.
Story Continued Below
Pelosi’s comments come a day after Lewandowski’s marathon testimony, which left Democrats angry and frustrated. Lewandowski refused to answer many of Democrats’ questions about his testimony to Mueller and often seemed to be performing for an audience of one — President Donald Trump — as he prepares for a potential Senate run.
At one point during the hearing, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) became so angry that he started yelling for Lewandowski to be held in contempt. The Judiciary chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), didn’t take that action but left open the possibility at the end of the hearing.
Some attendees of the Wednesday-night meeting interpreted Pelosi‘s remarks as an indirect criticism of Nadler, but a spokesperson for the California Democrat stressed that this was not the case.
Still, Pelosi’s comments come as escalating tensions between the speaker and Nadler over how the caucus proceeds on impeachment have tumbled out into the open. Nadler said earlier this week he believes that Trump should be impeached, while Pelosi remains firmly against the idea, citing overwhelming public opposition.
When asked about the Wednesday meeting, Pelosi’s spokesperson said the speaker’s comments were “a critique of the witnesses’ behavior, not the handling of these hearings.” Pelosi said Lewandowski’s behavior was “beyond the pale and contemptible,” according to the aide, adding she felt the same way about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing last fall.
But senior Democrats, including Pelosi, dismissed calls this week to impeach Kavanaugh after several liberals demanded his ouster after a new allegation of sexual misconduct during his time at Yale surfaced over the weekend.
Top Democrats, including Nadler, said it was more important to focus their resources on “determining whether to impeach the president.”
It’s unclear whether Pelosi intended to suggest a specific form of contempt — such as Congress’ power to hold a witness in “inherent” contempt and punish him on the spot, or criminal contempt, which would require the House to support a referral to the U.S. attorney in Washington.
But the pro-impeachment wing is becoming increasingly frustrated by Democratic leaders’ reluctance to embrace the impeachment investigation, even as Trump does everything he can to block House oversight of his administration, finances and personal controversies.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee billed Lewandowski’s appearance as their first official “impeachment” hearing, one of several they are planning this fall as the panel’s members determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump.
Lewandowski is the first Mueller witness to appear publicly before the panel since the special counsel’s nearly 450-page report was released in late April. Trump has effectively stonewalled Democrats’ attempts to advance allegations detailed in Mueller’s investigation, refusing to provide documents and blocking other key witnesses, including senior White House aides, from testifying.
Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.