CNN moved quickly Wednesday to refute a Mediaite report that it had suspended commentator Corey Lewandowski, following the release of a Donald Trump campaign financial disclosure form showing that Lewandowski was paid $20,000 in August for “strategy consulting.” A CNN spokeswoman said Trump’s former campaign manager had not been suspended and would appear on air later in the day.
Trump fired Lewandowski in June but continues to pay him what CNN describes to viewers as “severence” — a term that suggests a cleaner break from the campaign than “strategy consulting.” Trump’s team suggested Wednesday that the description on a Federal Election Commission filing is nothing more than leftover phrasing from the days when Lewandowski still worked for the campaign. A filing in July also attributed Lewandowski’s payment to “strategy consulting” — just as previous payments did.
“Corey Lewandowski, who is no longer involved in the campaign, continues to receive monthly severance payments,” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement. “The campaign will continue to honor its contract with Mr. Lewandowski, which stipulates he will be paid through the end of the year. These payments are in no way compensation for services rendered.”
On paper, nothing has changed since last month; the “strategy consulting” label is not new. But Hicks’s claim that Lewandowski “is no longer involved in the campaign” is at odds with recent reports that the combative New Englander is reestablishing himself as an influential Trump adviser — albeit one without a title.
CNN’s own John King tweeted a picture of Lewandowski talking to Trump by phone on a TV set during the Republican National Convention.
U.S. News & World Report, citing an unnamed Trump staffer, reported in early August that the GOP nominee “has increasingly been back in regular contact with his former campaign manager.”
Add to that the fact that Lewandowski, in his role at CNN, still fails to conform to basic standards of fairness and accuracy. Everyone expects his support for Trump to color his analysis; that’s not the problem. The problem is that CNN anchors often find themselves fact-checking their new colleague and struggling to keep him on topic, when all Lewandowski wants to do is repeat the same prepared talking points he used as Trump’s campaign manager.
So if CNN was looking for an excuse to ditch Lewandowski — a reason to fire or suspend him without admitting that he stinks as an analyst — it easily could have used the latest FEC report to do so. Instead, the network is standing by its guy.
The whole episode indicates that CNN likes Lewandowski — and is more committed to him — than his many critics might have thought.