CNN commentator and former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was paid $20,000 in August by the campaign for what it described as “strategy consulting,” raising anew the conflict of interest issue that has dogged the cable network’s hiring of Lewandowski.
CNN has said previously that Trump’s payments to Lewandowski and his consulting firm were “severance” for his employment by Trump. It began introducing his appearances on the air last month by mentioning that he receives severance from Trump.
But the payments continued in August, according to Trump’s campaign expenditure filing released Tuesday night. The description used by Trump’s campaign in the filing — “strategy consulting” — also suggested that Lewandowski is playing a more active and current role in the campaign than “severance” would suggest.
If so, it would put CNN in the position of employing a person who is also compensated by the campaign and the candidate he comments on — a conflict that most journalistic organizations prohibit.
Representatives of CNN declined to comment.
In a statement Wednesday morning, Trump press secretary Hope Hicks said, “Corey Lewandowski, who is no longer involved in the campaign, continues to receive monthly severance payments. 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.”
Lewandowski has apparently maintained close ties with the campaign despite being fired by Trump and escorted from Trump Tower by security officers in June. Various news reports have described him as an “informal” adviser to the campaign.
CNN chairman Jeff Zucker has repeatedly defended the hiring of Lewandowski, most recently at an employee town hall meeting on Tuesday, according to the Huffington Post. Zucker has said the network needed to add pro-Trump voices to balance the stable of commentators who support Hillary Clinton and that Lewandowski brought inside knowledge of Trump’s campaign.
The network’s hiring of Lewandowski in June drew criticism from viewers and journalists because of his overt partisanship and his testy relationship with the news media during the time he ran Trump’s campaign. Lewandowski was Trump’s manager from the time of his formal announcement in June 2015 until his firing a year later.
During his tenure, Lewandowski oversaw Trump’s ban on nearly a dozen news organizations, including The Washington Post, from receiving credentials to cover Trump’s campaign events. He also manhandled a reporter, Michelle Fields, as she sought to question Trump after a press conference in March. A Florida prosecutor declined to press charges against Lewandowski.
The new payment by Trump to Lewandowski drew criticism on Twitter when it was disclosed in the filing last night.
“This is just indefensible on CNN’s part,” tweeted Jon Lovett, a former speechwriter for President Obama. “Who benefits from this? Not CNN, not the viewer. No one but Lewandowski and Trump. Wrong and stupid.”
Lewandowski reflexively defends Trump when he speaks on CNN. He is still apparently bound by a non-disclosure agreement with the campaign that limits what he can say about his time as campaign manager.
Lewandowski’s firm, Green Monster Consulting, also received a $20,000 fee from the Trump campaign in July. Under criticism for that payment, CNN began introducing all of Lewandowski’s segments with the disclaimer about severance. It typically doesn’t disclose the amount of money his firm receives.