White House blocks former officials from appearing at House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing

By Grace Segers

/ CBS News

Impeachment proceedings moving forward

The White House directed former officials Rob Porter and Rick Dearborn to defy subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee to appear at the committee's first formal hearing on impeachment proceedings against the president. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is still set to testify about the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller before the committee at the hearing on Tuesday.

The Justice Department wrote in two letters to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone that Porter and Dearborn were "absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony" because of their status as former top advisers to the president.

The White House counsel also wrote in a letter that Lewandowski's "conversations with the President and with senior advisers to the President are protected from disclosure by long-settled principles protecting Executive Branch confidentiality interest," even though Lewandowski never worked for the administration.

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"Mr. Lewandowski will testify before Congress regarding matters already made public in the Mueller report. Any information about his communications with the President or with senior advisers to the President not already disclosed in the Mueller report, however, remains confidential," White House Deputy Press Secretary Steven Groves said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said that blocking Porter and Dearborn's testimony, and limiting Lewandowski's, was a "shocking and dangerous assertion of executive privilege and absolute immunity."

"The President would have us believe that he can willfully engage in criminal activity and prevent witnesses from testifying before Congress — even if they did not actually work for him or his administration," Nadler said in a statement. "If he were to prevail in this cover-up while the Judiciary Committee is considering whether to recommend articles of impeachment, he would upend the separation of powers as envisioned by our founders."

It's unlikely that the committee will glean any new information from Lewandowski's testimony. Mueller testified about his report before the committee in July, and declined to offer further information about his investigation, or say definitively that Mr. Trump obstructed justice by attempting to block the special counsel probe.

Lewandowski, a staunch supporter of the president who is mulling a run for the Senate, said in a tweet Tuesday morning that he was "excited" to talk about the report.

"Excited about the opportunity to remind the American people today there was no collusion no obstruction. There were lots of angry Democrats who tried to take down a duly elected President," Lewandowski wrote.

The Judiciary Committee voted Thursday in favor of a new resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry and further intensifying its investigation into Mr. Trump.

While mostly technical, the committee's vote also moved to install new procedures for its inquiry, allowing committee chairman Jerry Nadler to designate which committee and subcommittee hearings are related to the probe, give the committee counsel extra time to question witnesses and receive evidence in closed executive session.

Emily Tillett contributed to this report

First published on September 17, 2019 / 10:13 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Grace Segers

Grace Segers is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.

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