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Former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (who lost that job in June 2016, and was replaced by Paul Manafort) responded to news of Manafort’s indictment Monday by blaming the FBI for not warning the Trump campaign about Manafort before he climbed aboard the Trump train. Here’s five things to know about Lewandowski and his complicated relationships with Trump and Manafort:
1. Lewandowski Complained of ‘A Problem With the FBI’
On Monday morning, after indictments were unsealed against Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates, and word also broke that former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopolous had already pleased guilty to making false statements to the FBI, Lewandowski went on Fox Business Network’s “Varney & Co.” and told host Charles Payne that “If the public reports are true, and there was a time where Paul Manafort was under a FISA warrant before coming to the Trump campaign, why is it the FBI never reached out to me as the campaign manager, never reached out to Donald Trump, and said: ‘Look, you might want to pause for a second and take a look before you bring this guy on board as a volunteer to hunt delegates to you’.”
He also suggested the timing was a deliberate attempt to undermine Republican efforts at tax reform, and that whoever leaked word of the upcoming indictments last weekend had committed a crime: “I don’t believe in coincidences. What we do know is that we had information leaked out on a Friday night to a news network about the indictments that were coming. I believe that’s a felony if you leak out information, that had to come from somewhere inside the Mueller team, most likely.”
The day before Lewandowski said this, President Trump tweeted a similar accusation that the entire matter was merely a distraction from tax issues: “All of this “Russia” talk right when the Republicans are making their big push for historic Tax Cuts & Reform. Is this coincidental? NOT!”
Also on Monday, Trump dismissively tweeted about Manafort’s indictment that “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”
2. Lewandowski and Manafort Have a Contentious History Together
Lewandowski was fired from Trump’s presidential campaign in June 2016, supposedly due to Ivanka Trump’s dislike of him.
Manafort was already part of the Trump campaign before that; Trump hired him shortly after Lewandowski was charged with misdemeanor battery over a March 8 incident in which he allegedly assaulted ex-Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. (Lewandowski responded by tweeting that Fields was “delusional,” though video of the incident appears to corroborate Fields’ account.)
Almost as soon as Manafort joined Trump’s campaign as a strategist, reports surfaced implying some friction between him and Lewandowski. (Though it was hard to say with any certainty where those reports came from. In an April 2016 report about then-current problems reputed with Trump’s campaign, for example, Slate noted that “it’s difficult to know exactly how much stock to put in the criticism” because that particular report relied “almost exclusively on unnamed ‘sources close to the campaign’ and—with the notable exception of a single source described as ‘a Manafort ally’—the quotes are clearly coming from the Let Trump Be Trump school of thought championed by Corey Lewandowski.”
The next month, Politico ran ran a more detailed story noting that “Sources inside the Donald Trump campaign say top aides Corey Lewandowski and Paul Manafort are at each others’ throats.”
So when the Trump campaign fired Lewandowski that June, he had nothing but good things to say about his former boss the presidential candidate. But it didn’t take long for Lewandowski to go public with criticisms of Manafort. In July 2016, after Melania Trump was ridiculed for giving a speech which heavily plagiarized then-First Lady Michelle Obama, Lewandowski said on CNN that if Manafort signed off on Mrs. Trump’s plagiarized speech, he should resign for it. And when Manafort resigned (or was fired) from Trump’s campaign that August, Lewandowski said of the occasion “People think I won.”
In September 2017, Lewandowski said that it Manafort or anybody else on Trump’s campaign had “colluded” with Russian officials, those people should “go to jail for the rest of their lives.”
….. (after a very brief stint on CNN)
3. Lewandowski Likely Signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement Barring Him From Criticizing Trump
In late June 2016, unnamed “sources” reported that Lewandowski reputedly had, then lost, a $1.2 million publishing deal to write about his time on the Trump campaign. As Politico reported, that March, while still part of the Trump campaign, Lewandowski reportedly tried interesting publishers in a book tentatively titled “Let Trump Be Trump.”
A “source in the publishing industry” told Politico that as many as five different publishers initially expressed interest, but expressed concern over how Lewandowski’s nondisclosure agreement with Trump would affect any such book. (Lewandowski, for his part, denied such reports; in May 2016 he tweeted “Despite false reports to the contrary, I am not writing a book. I am under a strict confidentiality agreement with Mr. Trump.”)
Though Lewandowski’s nondisclosure agreement may have prevented him from writing a Trump tell-ll book, it has not kept him from other media jobs. Shortly after leaving the Trump campaign, CNN hired Lewandowski as an on-air pundit, a move which the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan called “an astonishing reward for behavior that should cause him to be shunned by respectable journalistic organizations.” (CNN faced additional criticism over its hiring decision in mid-July of that year, when word leaked out that Lewandowski was still collecting a salary from the Trump campaign despite his firing from it.)
Lewandowski resigned from CNN in November 2016. The following January, just before Trump’s inauguration, Lewandowski joined the pro-Trump cable channel One America News Network but was fired in July, supposedly for making too many appearances on Fox News and other OANN competitors.
4. He Still Says the FBI Should Focus Its Investigations on Hillary Clinton and the ‘Clinton Administration’
Though Manafort and other names attached to the indictments were not publicly known until Monday, Oct. 30, the media reported on the upcoming still-sealed indictments (without mentioning any names) the previous Friday.
Lewandowski went on Fox and Friends to criticize the decision (over the on-screen caption “First Charges Filed In Russia Probe”) and suggest law enforcement should worry about Hillary Clinton, rather than any possible connections between Russia and Trump insiders: “The speculation is so insane right now. What we should be focusing on are the continued lies of the Clinton administration, the continued fallacies that they perpetuate, look, Robert Mueller is doing his job, whatever that entails, and he has now filed charges against somebody that we don’t know what they are, we don’t know who they’re against….”
The last time America had a “Clinton administration” was in the 1990s, when Hillary’s husband Bill served two terms as president.
Lewandowski banged a similar Clinton drum in his Monday morning appearance on Fox Business Network (though when he first mentioned the “Clinton administration,” he immediately corrected himself and specified that he’d meant to say “Clinton Foundation”): “What we also know, what we know unequivocally, is that Bill Clinton received $500,000 from somebody tied to Russia, and just before the uranium deal went through, Bill Clinton was meeting with Vladimir Putin…. the real collusion that took place was between the DNC, the Clinton campaign, and Russia.”
When Payne asked Lewandowski why he thought attorney general Jeff Sessions hadn’t taken action against such actions, Lewandowski said “It’s a great question, I don’t know the answer to it.”
5. He Said Any Wrongdoing by Manafort or Other Trump Staff Should be ‘Independent of the President’
In September, when Lewandowski said that anyone colluding with Russia should “go to jail for the rest of their lives,” he also suggested that if such collusion were proven to be real, Trump had nothing to do with that:
I had the privilege to sit next to Donald Trump 18 hours a day, seven days a week for 18 months, from January 2015 until I left the campaign on June 20th in 2016. And when I say 18 hours a day sitting next to him, I truly mean on an airplane flying or being next to him and listening to every phone call, within reason, that he had made over that period of time. And never ever ever did I hear him say, utter, insinuate anything to do with Russia. He never instructed me or anybody in my immediate presence to ever be involved with Russia, never mentioned Russia collusion, coordination, cooperation, or anything of that nature ever.
On Oct. 30, when Manafort and Rick Gates were publicly named in the indictment and Lewandowski responded by criticizing the FBI for not warning Trump about Manafort back in the day, Lewandowski also repeated his earlier claims that Trump could not possibly have known anything about this: ““Look, if Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are guilty of tax evasion, money laundering, or hiding their accounts in Cyprus, or whatever it is, they should absolutely be held accountable. But they should be held accountable independent of the president, because the president had nothing to do with coordination, collusion or cooperation with Russia, nobody at the campaign did that I’m aware of.”