Which is not what Lewandowski told special counsel Robert S. Mueller III under oath in 2017. Lewandowski said then that Trump had instructed him twice to tell Sessions, then the attorney general, to curtail Mueller’s investigation of Trump, and Lewandowski failed to do so, perhaps saving Trump from an overt act of obstructing justice.
So how to square the two conflicting statements? During testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Lewandowski said something that sparked an audible reaction from onlookers in the hearing room: “I have no obligation to be honest with the media because they’re just as dishonest as anyone else.”
Basically he conceded that you can’t take his word for it.
During a combative interview on CNN on Wednesday morning, Lewandowski expanded upon his situational truthfulness, saying, “I’m as honest as I can be, as often as I can be.”
Given his admission on Tuesday, that should have raised another question: Was he being honest about that?
CNN employed Lewandowski as an on-air commentator between April 2017 and June 2018, during which he repeatedly spoke on behalf of Trump and his administration’s policies. CNN did not respond to a request for comment about Lewandowski on Wednesday.
Despite widespread cynicism about honesty in Washington, Eric Schultz, a former spokesman for President Barack Obama, said Lewandowski’s admission is one of a kind. “To be fair, I don’t know a single other Democratic or Republican spokesperson who thinks this way,” Schultz tweeted. “We all work hard to make our best case, but I’ve never worked with (or against) anyone on either side of the aisle who thinks lying is okay.”
Journalists know their sources sometimes hedge their answers or spin for advantage. They also suspect that a few outright lie (an old saw in the reporting game: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out”).
As president, Trump has made more than 12,000 suspect statements, according to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker. Aides such as Kellyanne (“alternative facts”) Conway and former press secretaries Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders have made plainly inaccurate or false statements in their dealings with the press.
But it’s rare for anyone closely associated with Trump to correct the record or admit fault in speaking to the news media. And it’s unheard of for them to admit that they lied.
The admission raises questions about how reporters should cover him in the future, especially if, as expected, he declares his candidacy for a U.S. Senate seat in New Hampshire.
“I fail to see the value in interviewing Lewandowski in any capacity as commentator or Trump proxy,” said Gabriel Kahn, a professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, on Wednesday. “How would any news organization properly contextualize that for the audience? ‘We’re about to hear from someone who quite possibly is not telling the truth, but let’s hear what he has to say anyway’?
“Any news organization that puts him live on camera now, no matter what the chyron [or on-screen graphic] reads, does so for showmanship, not to further public understanding,” Kahn said.
He described Lewandowski’s bad faith as part of a bigger strategy. It’s “deliberate and calculated and part of a long-running campaign by the Trump movement to discredit news media so as to allow the administration to act without accountability.”
Lying to the media isn’t a crime, but lying under oath is. Several figures who were involved in Trump’s 2016 campaign, including George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, have been indicted or convicted of lying to federal authorities.
In his testimony on Tuesday, Lewandowski said he tells the truth while under oath. Asked by CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota on Wednesday if that is the only circumstance in which he feels obligated to be honest, Lewandowski deflected, invoking former FBI director Andrew McCabe, now a CNN contributor. McCabe was fired last year just before he was set to retire after the Justice Department’s inspector general found that he made an unauthorized disclosure to the media, then lied to investigators about it.
“You and your network continue to use him as a contributor who has been lying under oath,” Lewandowski said of McCabe, who authorized the initial investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia in 2016. “So if you’re going to hold me to a standard, hold your same employees and contributors to that same standard.”
In the interview, Lewandowski declined to admit that he lies in news interviews, despite telling the House committee that on Tuesday.