Lewandowski Declines to Answer Some House Panel Questions

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski declined to answer questions Wednesday from the House Intelligence Committee about any topic after his departure from the presidential campaign, the panel’s top Democrat told reporters.

"Mr. Lewandowski said he was not prepared to answer those questions today," said Representative Adam Schiff of California, noting the episode came one day after Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon refused to answer many of the panel’s questions because he said the White House may want to assert executive privilege.

Lewandowski Declines to Answer Some House Panel Questions

Schiff said that one of the questions that Lewandowski wouldn’t answer was: "Did you have a conversation with the president of the United States within the last 24 hours where you discussed your testimony?"

But unlike Bannon, Lewandowski didn’t cite executive privilege, according to Schiff, who said the former campaign manager did express a willingness to return to the committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 American election, at a later date to answer their remaining questions.

Schiff said it’s "completely unacceptable to have a witness come before us and decide for purposes of today’s interviews these whole categories of questions we’re placing off-limits."

Peter King of New York, a Republican on the committee, offered a different interpretation of the episode. Lewandowski, King said, "answered every conceivable question" related to the time before he left the Trump campaign, in June 2016. That was the period he had prepared for the committee to ask him about, King added.

Asked why Lewandowski did not want to answer any questions about conversations and events after his departure, King said: "Because he wasn’t prepared. For something like this you have to prepare for days and weeks."

The session with Lewandowski was in "sharp contrast," Schiff said, to that of another witness interviewed by the committee Wednesday: White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn.

"Answered every question we had. Was fully cooperative," said Schiff. "Invoked no executive privilege. Invoked no anticipation of executive privilege" regarding events during the campaign, the transition or the current administration.

Committee members were still waiting to hear when Bannon will return for follow-up questioning, as requested by the panel. Uttam Dhillon, the White House lawyer responsible for responding to congressional investigators in the Russia probe, had made the executive privilege request to Bannon’s lawyer, William Burck, before Bannon’s appearance Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Lewandowski was fired as campaign manager on June 20, 2016, and replaced by Paul Manafort, who has been indicted on money-laundering charges by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Before Lewandowski left the campaign, he was among among several senior Trump campaign officials who received communications from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos about his outreach to the Russian government, according to published news accounts.

Court filings show Papadopoulos wrote to Lewandowski several times to let him know that the Russians were interested in forging a relationship with the campaign, the Washington Post reported last month. The Post said that included one message in May 2016, in which Papadopoulos forwarded to Lewandowski an offer of “cooperation” from a Russian with links to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Is this something we want to move forward with?” Papadopoulos asked. There was no indication of how Lewandowski responded, the Post said. Lewandowski has said publicly he doesn’t recall whether he received emails from Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty in early October to lying to federal agents about his outreach to Russia and is now a cooperating witness for Mueller.

Dearborn’s duties have included oversight of the White House’s political operation, public outreach and legislative affairs. Before that, he helped set up the campaign’s Washington office and was executive director of the presidential transition team after the election. He announced last month that he’ll be leaving the White House early this year.

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