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Opinion Four questions about CNN’s deal with Corey Lewandowski

Corey Lewandowski. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Now we know how to view Corey Lewandowski’s interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on Monday after he was fired from the campaign of Donald Trump: As an audition.

Pressed by Bash on a number of key issues and details, Lewandowski was cool and poised, never once showing a flash of the angry and difficult personality attributed to him in various published profiles. Despite coming fresh off his dismissal as Trump campaign manager, Lewandowski professed his support for Trump and professed his excitement to spend more time with his family. The performance impressed the Erik Wemple Blog:

Answer: Less than a week, as Politico’s Hadas Gold reported today. Following that interview with Bash, Lewandowski went into a meeting with CNN executives. He’s due to make his debut appearance as a CNN political commentator next Monday on the morning program “New Day.”

The setup raises a number of questions:

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1) How many Trumpites does CNN need?. When the political talk turns to Trump, as it always does, CNN has two political commentators to provide analysis: Jeffrey Lord, a former Reagan political director prone to ridiculous invocations of history to defend Trump, and Kayleigh McEnany, whose defenses of the candidate tend to be more conventional, though no more convincing. The coming months — including July’s Republican convention — will supply copious opportunities for on-air Trump defenses, but really: Must CNN have three paid commentators who do nothing but defend their candidate?

2) How will CNN deal with a clear conflict of interest? In his interview with Bash, Lewandowski said something that should have given pause to CNN executives: He will still serve as the chair of the New Hampshire delegation to the Republican convention. As CNN itself has been reporting, there’s a drive afoot among certain delegates to bag Trump and hand the GOP nomination to someone else. As a Trump loyalist, Lewandowski could become a player in that fight — someone that CNN should be reporting on, not paying for his commentary.

3) Openness? Though Lewandowski maintained his composure under questioning by Bash, he didn’t provide a great deal of insight. “I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. But what I know is that what we’ve been able to achieve in this election cycle was historic,” said Lewandowski when asked about the circumstances of his firing. And that’s the insight that CNN wants from Lewandowski over the coming five months or so?

Why so mum? Maybe because of a non-disclosure agreement. As the AP has reported, Lewandowski is bound by just such an arrangement with the Trump campaign. Back when people were speculating about a Lewandowski tell-all book, the aide tweeted:

Upshot: Lewandowski can be relied upon to mouth rote, pro-Trump bromides, and none of that insiderish information in which cable news channels adore trafficking. CNN media boss Brian Stelter reports: “His perspective might be uniquely valuable given that he was Trump’s right hand man up until this week.” Valuable, yes, to the purposes of the Trump campaign. To CNN viewers? We shall see.

4) Is there any dignity or occupational pride at CNN? Corey Lewandowski is the fellow who grabbed the arm of reporter Michelle Fields and later claimed that she was “delusional” for having claimed as much. Corey Lewandowski is the fellow who yelled at CNN staffer Noah Gray to stay in his media pen or suffer the consequences. Corey Lewandowski also allegedly pushed Gray in a separate dustup. Yet CNN says, Give that man a contract!

In pursuing Lewandowski, CNN appears to have had some company. An MSNBC executive confirms that the network met with the former campaign manager but didn’t make an offer. A Fox News spokesperson said the network didn’t make an offer for a contributor position. Whatever the competition might have been thinking, this is CNN’s black eye — a transaction that slights the journalists who’ve been killing themselves in covering the campaign. High on that list is Bash herself, who suffers from the appearance that she was involved in recruiting a commentator, when, in fact, she was just doing her job very well. “Not a single conversation with Corey happened until after his interview with Dana,” says a CNN spokesperson.

Updated to include last paragraph.