Lewandowski: If Manafort was contacting Russians, Trump didn’t know
WASHINGTON (CNN) — If Donald Trump’s campaign aides like Paul Manafort were contacting Russian officials during the campaign, then the President had nothing to do with it, claims former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
“If anybody crossed a line and gave information to a foreign agent or foreign government or foreign intelligence official, whether that’s Paul Manafort or it’s Rick Gates or anybody else, I hope they’re held accountable,” Lewandowski told David Axelrod on “The Axe Files,” a podcast from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN.
He later added: “Any staffer who contacted or potentially contacted a Russian agent or a Russian official has done so on their own accord and not at the direction of the campaign, the President or anybody else in the administration.”
Lewandowski was responding to CNN reporting that high-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump — including Manafort — were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence, according to multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials.
Lewandowski and Manafort were considered part of two rival power centers in the campaign during the time they overlapped. Manafort took operational control of Trump’s campaign after Lewandowski’s dismissal — only to resign two months later, in part due to Manafort’s role as a political adviser in Ukraine.
Manafort has denied the alleged contact as “100% not true.”
At times during the interview, Lewandowski speculated about previous reports of Russian connections with Manafort, though he added he has “no idea” whether any of it is true.
“Look, I had no idea if, you know, the stories that have been very public about dossiers and Paul’s name appearing and, you know, other foreign countries, about receiving money, I don’t know if they’re true or if they’re not true. I have no idea. I have no reason to believe them, whatsoever,” Lewandowski said.
Lewandowski, a former CNN political commentator, said Trump never wanted Russian interference in the election, which US intelligence agencies say occurred to boost the GOP nominee. But he would not rule out the notion that Manafort had wanted such aid.
“If Paul Manafort did something that he was trying to encourage the Russians to be involved in this election cycle, then he did so on his own accord, without any direction from then-candidate Trump, the campaign or President Trump. I am certain of that,” Lewandowski said.