President Trump’s former campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski testified Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee. The White House is not objecting to his appearance but has instructed him not to answer questions about his communications with the president. (See the letter of White House counsel Pat Cipollone to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.)
This raises an interesting question: May the president assert executive privilege to shield disclosure of his communications with people who are not part of the White House staff and the broader executive branch?
Lewandowski was not a government official in June and July 2017, when, according to the Mueller report, the president instructed him to convey a directive to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The directive was for Sessions to narrow his recusal from the Russia investigation so that he could limit then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s jurisdiction – such that Mueller could investigate only to prevent Russian meddling in future elections.
That is, Mueller would end his probe of Kremlin interference in the 2016 campaign, on the rationale that Trump had done nothing wrong. Sessions was to add that he had been with Trump for nine months on the campaign and therefore knew that “there were no Russians involved with him.”
The last claim was an overstatement. We now know that the Trump organization was involved in negotiations for Trump Tower Moscow throughout the 2016 campaign. Moreover, while there is no evidence that candidate Trump himself was informed about the matter, his top campaign officials (his son Don Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his then-campaign manager Paul Manafort) met in June 2016 with a lawyer they understood to be a Kremlin emissary (Natalia Veselnitskaya, with an entourage of Russians in tow) in the expectation (unfulfilled) of receiving campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Ironically, as I further detail in “Ball of Collusion,” Veselnitskaya obtained the materials she presented from Fusion GPS, the same outfit that was working for Clinton to scrounge up campaign dirt on Donald Trump from Russian sources.