The House Judiciary Committee is holding its first impeachment investigation hearing on Tuesday, September 17. Here is the opening statement of Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-New York:
“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.
“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.
“We had wanted these three individuals to testify before the Committee and the American people because they are critical witnesses to the incidents of obstruction laid out in the Mueller Report.
“In at least five of those episodes, evidence laid out in the Special Counsel report established that all the elements of obstruction of justice were met. Today–despite the roadblocks the White House has thrown up–we will focus on one of the most concerning of those five episodes. It is the President ordering the Attorney General, through Mr. Lewandowski, to stop the Special Counsel’s investigation into the president and his campaign. As the Report detailed, Mr. Dearborn was enlisted as a part of that effort as well. Mr. Porter has other critical evidence regarding obstruction.
“As our hearings with the Special Counsel and other outside experts established, anyone else involved in these episodes of obstruction would have been charged with a crime. Anyone else. Let that sink in.
“The President knows this, and the White House is intent on preventing the American people from hearing the details. So it’s no surprise the White House blocked two of our witnesses, Mr. Porter and Mr. Dearborn, from showing up at all today.
“On behalf of the President, the White House and Department of Justice are advancing the same spurious legal doctrine as they did when this Committee called on the most important obstruction witness to testify: former White House Counsel, Don McGahn.
“They claim Porter and Dearborn, like McGahn, are absolutely immune from testifying before Congress. There is no such thing. The only court ever to consider this purported absolute immunity doctrine totally rejected it. That is why we have gone to court in the McGahn case to set it aside.
“What’s happening today is more troubling than McGahn’s failure to appear. Because even if we apply DOJ’s own made-up rules of absolute immunity, I question how Mr. Dearborn fits under those rules.
“According to DOJ opinions, ‘absolute immunity’ applies to quote ‘the President’s immediate advisers … who serve as the President’s alter ego….’ To extend this already dubious doctrine to someone like Dearborn who is far more removed from the President than McGahn is a dangerous new stretch. I think we should call this what it is —an absolute cover up by the White House.
“Mr. Lewandowski is here and has vital information about presidential obstruction. But the White House wants to limit our and your ability to hear it all.
“Mr. Lewandowski was called alone, one-on-one, into the Oval Office on June 19, 2017 and again on July 19, 2017. And the President did something I find startling. He dictated a speech to Mr. Lewandowski A speech not for Mr. Lewandowski but for Attorney General Sessions to deliver.
“He secretly told Mr. Lewandowski to put the following words in the AG’s mouth
I am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections. (Vol. II, 91)
“As the Mueller Report found, limiting the investigation to future elections would have cut off the investigation of any past conduct and struck at the heart of the Special Counsel’s mandate. It would have ended the investigation of the President. The evidence found by the Special Counsel met all the elements of obstruction.
“Mr. Lewandowski was nervous about this demand from his former boss—as he should have been. It raised serious questions about criminal conduct. On top of that, the AG was recused—forbidden from doing anything regarding the Mueller investigation. He was certainly not allowed to curtail it.
“So Mr. Lewandowski tried to surreptitiously meet with the AG. When that failed, he tried to pass the buck to Mr. Dearborn. Mr. Lewandowski gave Mr. Dearborn the script that had been dictated by the President. All while telling the President that he would follow through on the President’s orders. So that’s what we want to try to learn more about today. As we learned with Special Counsel Mueller, witness testimony is critical to any investigation.
“But the White House doesn’t want us or the American people to hear this story in full. Late yesterday, the White House sent us a letter claiming that Mr. Lewandowski’s conversations with the President ‘are protected from disclosure by…Executive Branch confidentiality interests.’ They say he may testify about Presidential communications that are already disclosed in the Report, but no more.
“They make that claim despite the fact that he was a private political operative, apparently was not offering advice of any kind—the usual prerequisite for executive privilege—and was enlisted for apparent wrongdoing.
“No court has ever said that the President is entitled to confidentiality under these circumstances. Indeed, the Department of Justice has said executive privilege should not be invoked to conceal evidence of wrongdoing on the part of executive officers.
“The White House is advancing a new and dangerous theory: the crony privilege. It makes absolute immunity look good by comparison. Where are the limits?
“This is a coverup plain and simple. If it were to prevail—especially while the Judiciary Committee is considering whether to recommend articles of impeachment—it would upend the separation of powers as envisioned by our founders.
“And today’s coverup is a part of a pattern of the White House blocking Congress. The President has announced his desire to ‘fight all the subpoenas.’ The White House’s obstruction of Congress ranges across nearly every committee and virtually every investigation of the Administration—whether related to children in cages, botched security clearances, or their failure to defend the country from ongoing attacks by a foreign adversary.
“Well, Mr. Lewandowski you are here under subpoena, and that means you are required to answer our questions. All our questions, completely and truthfully.
“Our investigation also extends beyond the four corners of the Mueller Report. We are looking at corruption and abuse of power more broadly, so we will inquire about other subjects as well.
“We will not be daunted by the coverup. We intend to secure accountability for any wrongdoing. Because no one is above the law—not even the President of the United States.”