“If you don’t hold witnesses accountable, what does it say?” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a member of the Judiciary Committee. “I do think that we have to walk that line and make sure that we’re making it clear to people that, you know, ‘We are well aware of your obstruction of Congress,’ that we will have people in contempt” if they act inappropriately.
The panel’s decision to proceed against Lewandowski comes after Pelosi (D-Calif.) told lawmakers in a private meeting Wednesday night that no witness should be able to treat members of Congress the way 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.
Lewandowski talked over lawmakers, dodged questions, made snide remarks and promoted his own possible U.S. Senate campaign in New Hampshire and book in more than five hours of testimony.
“I would have held him in contempt right then and there,” Pelosi told members.
Several lawmakers in the room interpreted Pelosi’s remarks as a dig at Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who chose not to hold Lewandowski in contempt for his defiant behavior on Tuesday.
Pelosi spokeswoman Ashley Etienne confirmed the exchange but said Pelosi’s comments “were a critique of the witness’s behavior, not the handling of these hearings.”
Technically, staff would have had to draft up a contempt resolution to vote on in committee, and Democrats said they thought it would be better to keep the focus on Trump.
Other Democrats, however, said the committee looked weak for not responding. Earlier in the day, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.) said the hearing exposed Congress’s inability to overcome presidential stonewalling.
“The founders never believed that this kind of thing would happen, so there’s no way to deal with it,” he said. “I think the American people looked at that and thought, ‘What’s going on?’ We understand it, but they look at this like: What? Screaming at members of Congress?”
The panel left open the possibility of doing contempt at a later date, however, choosing to adjourn rather than end the hearing. After Pelosi’s comment was publicized, the committee is revisiting the idea.
Members have noted that Nadler and Pelosi have been on different pages for months. Nadler has been keen to impeach Trump, while Pelosi worries about political blowback, not only from some in her caucus but in the 2020 election.
Lawmakers say it is only a matter of time before tensions spill out into the open. Impeachment proponents say they worry investigators are running out of time to oust the president and want to move soon.
On the matter of Lewandowski, the two appear to have switched sides, with Pelosi suggesting stronger action and Nadler being cautious. Committee staff members have been focused on the impeachment investigation of Trump, and taking action against Lewandowski would use up panel time and resources.