Lewandowski Dodges Trump’s Wrath Despite Handing Over Notes to Mueller
(Bloomberg) -- Corey Lewandowski has been one of Donald Trump’s closest confidants, most loyal supporters and biggest defenders on cable news. Now, he’s also one of Robert Mueller’s key witnesses laying out a case for how the president may have obstructed justice.
Lewandowski -- with the help of notes he kept in a safe -- provided Mueller with details of how Trump planned to direct former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to exonerate him and curtail the special counsel’s investigation. The adviser who served for a time as Trump’s campaign manager laid out one of the main pieces of evidence Democrats could use if they move forward with impeachment.
The consequence of Lewandowski’s decision to preserve his notes and give them to Mueller could draw the ire of a mercurial president known for turning on advisers over what he views as missteps.
But Trump prizes loyalty above all. And Lewandowski’s notes -- as damaging as they were to the president -- revealed something perhaps even more important in the president’s eyes: Though he failed, he tried to follow Trump’s orders.
So far, Lewandowski has escaped Trump’s wrath, unlike others in the president’s orbit who supplied Mueller with damaging information, according to people close to the president and his advisers. Most notably, former White House Counsel Don McGahn has been pilloried by Trump’s circle for the extensive detail he provided Mueller about the president’s efforts to stymie the probe.
“Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed,” Trump tweeted on April 19, the day after the release of what he called “the Crazy Mueller Report.”
Unlike Lewandowski, McGahn refused to comply with a similar directive from Trump -- in his case an order to fire Mueller, according to the report. McGahn had a tumultuous relationship with Trump and when he left the White House last year the two were barely on speaking terms, according to a former White House official.
Dictating to Sessions
Lewandowski, who has remained one of Trump’s closest confidants since being fired as his campaign manager, told Mueller he met privately with Trump in June 2017 in the Oval Office, where the president called Sessions weak and criticized him for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. He told Lewandowski to write down a message he wanted him to deliver to Sessions -- the first time Trump had asked him to write something down.
According to the notes Lewandowski provided Mueller, the president said Sessions should deliver public remarks stating, “I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS ... is being treated very unfairly” and should personally clear Trump of any wrongdoing.
“Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States," Trump’s proposed speech for Sessions went on. "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."
Trump’s request to Lewandowski came days after he’d directed McGahn to have Mueller removed, the order McGahn refused to follow. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has called McGahn “confused.” Trump also has applauded those who have refused to talk to Mueller, like longtime adviser Roger Stone.
‘Raised an Eyebrow’
Lewandowski knew he had to handle Trump’s request delicately. He wanted to pass the message to Sessions in person and didn’t want to meet at the Justice Department, in part because that would have created a public record of the visit. So Lewandowski called Sessions, one of Trump’s early supporters, to schedule a meeting at his own office. But Sessions had to cancel, and Lewandowski never followed up to set another appointment before he left Washington.
A month later, after the public release of details about a meeting between Donald Trump Jr., top campaign staffers, and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, Trump asked Lewandowski if he’d delivered the message to Sessions.
The president said Sessions would be fired if he didn’t take the meeting. Lewandowski told Trump that the message would be delivered soon and later joked with White House adviser Hope Hicks about the idea that Sessions would be fired for not meeting with him, a private citizen.
While Trump had asked Lewandowski to carry out the task, he eventually passed it along to Rick Dearborn, a former Sessions staffer, who he thought would be a more appropriate messenger. Dearborn said when he saw the message from Lewandowski that it “raised an eyebrow." He said he was uncomfortable with the request, didn’t follow through on it and tried not to give it a second thought. Dearborn told Lewandowski he took care of the matter.
Mueller said that Trump’s request to Lewandowski “was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President’s and his campaign’s conduct” and could be considered an obstructive act.
Air Force One
Few in Trump’s orbit are more devoted than Lewandowski, who wrote a book titled “Let Trump Be Trump.” Trump calls Lewandowski from his personal mobile phone to vent, and he brings him on Air Force One for travel.
Lewandowski may be avoiding Trump’s ire not only because of his loyalty but also because of the unofficial role he’s had in the administration. One person close to the Trump campaign said that because Lewandowski didn’t have an official job -- unlike McGahn or Dearborn -- he wasn’t in the position of having to directly follow or disobey orders from the commander-in-chief. Rather, Lewandowski was acting as a friend.
Since he’s been such a fierce defender of Trump, other White House advisers are giving Lewandowski a pass, assuming his choice to preserve the notes and his inability to carry through on Trump’s directive was poor decision-making rather than disloyalty.
That could be tested again as Democrats delve deeper into Mueller’s findings. They issued a subpoena for McGahn to testify before the House Judiciary committee next month. They could make a similar request of Lewandowski as their hearings continue.
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