Former Trump presidential campaign manager Corey Lewandowski called the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, a “serial liar” who had “nothing to do with the campaign,” a description contradicted by multiple sources who have described Cohen playing a central role in the kickoff of Trump’s presidential bid and related events.
Lewandowki’s account, in an interview with the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast, came a few hours after Cohen pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying about his aggressive pursuit of approval from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office for a giant Trump World Tower in the Russian capital.
“Michael Cohen had never had a role in the campaign” and “had nothing to do with the campaign,” Lewandowski insisted. “He had no authority in the campaign. He had no campaign email. … He’s now admitted he lied to Congress … and he’s going to jail. Maybe he’ll share a cell with Paul [Manafort]. Maybe he and Roger [Stone] will all put the band together.”
Manafort was chairman of Trump’s campaign during the summer of 2016 and had been cooperating with the investigation of Russian interference in the election until special counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors accused him of lying to them and called off the deal. Stone has been a friend and informal adviser to Trump and also figures in the special counsel’s investigation.
Lewandowski also denied that he was the “senior campaign official” mentioned in Cohen’s guilty plea whom the lawyer spoke to about the possibility of going to Russia to promote the Moscow project. “I don’t know who Michael Cohen spoke to,” Lewandowski said. “I knew nothing about it.”
Lewandowski’s comments came during a lively confrontation over the Cohen guilty plea and other matters with the Skullduggery co-hosts, Yahoo News editor in chief Daniel Klaidman and this correspondent. Lewandowski was a guest on the podcast, along with his longtime associate, Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie, to promote their new book, “Trump’s Enemies: How the Deep State is Undermining the Presidency.”
The book attacks the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller –which has resulted in nine criminal convictions so far, including Cohen, Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn — as a “hoax.” It was published Tuesday, two days before Cohen entered his plea.
In the interview, Lewandowski also said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s role in approving a special foreign intelligence surveillance court application to eavesdrop on former Trump campaign manager Carter Page “would make him an enemy of the American people.”
Lewandowski’s response raises fresh questions about exactly who the “senior campaign official” was who had discussions about the Trump Tower-Russia deal. And his contention that Cohen was divorced from the Trump campaign was “not entirely accurate, to put it mildly,” said Yahoo News White House correspondent Hunter Walker, who covered the Trump campaign.
In fact, Lewandowski and Cohen were directly involved in the planning of Trump’s grand campaign kickoff event in June 2015, even to the point of arguing about how the spectacle should be organized, according to a Nov. 4, 2016, account by Walker in Yahoo News.
“Corey and Michael Cohen were fighting constantly over stupid things—you know, balloons and signs,” Stone told Walker at the time.
Download or subscribe on iTunes: “Skullduggery” from Yahoo News
Yet another Trump adviser, Sam Nunberg, confirmed Cohen’s role at the time, saying that Trump’s lawyer wanted to draw on his experience growing up in the Five Towns, a Jewish enclave on Long Island.
“Michael Cohen said, ‘I could do this. I plan the best bar mitzvahs,’ which was the exact mindset we needed,” Nunberg said at the time.
The separate planning for the Trump Tower Moscow project didn’t begin until September 2015 — three months after the campaign launch— when longtime Trump real estate adviser Felix Sater proposed the idea to Cohen, pitching it in an email as a way to “possibly fix relations between the countries” and “make a lot of money.”
While following up on the idea — even to the point of having discussions with an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press spokesman — Cohen continued his efforts on behalf of the Trump campaign until June 2016, when Trump had all but secured the Republican nomination. In April 2016, Cohen created a National Diversity Coalition for Trump — consisting of African-American pastors and other minority group leaders — that kicked off with a press conference at Trump Tower for the purpose of boosting Trump’s campaign.
More “Skullduggery” from Yahoo News:
- Episode 30: Active measures
- Episode 31: What if the president is deranged?
- Episode 32: Abuse of power
- Episode 33: Loud threats and bitter menaces
- Episode 34: Hot for teacher
- Episode 35: Tickling the wire
- Episode 36: Khashoggi friend says journalist angered Saudi government
- Episode 37: D.C. think tank says ‘no’ to Saudi funds
- Episode 38: ‘The fish does stink from the head down’
- Episode 39: An exclusive interview with George Conway