Never underestimate Corey Lewandowski's ability to spin a story that negatively affects President Trump into an attack on the media.
The Atlantic reported on Monday that Donald Trump Jr. exchanged private Twitter messages with WikiLeaks before and after the 2016 election — messages that the president's elder son subsequently released. The correspondence shows that WikiLeaks:
- Tipped off Trump Jr. to the launch of a political-action website opposing his father.
- Provided a link, which Trump Jr. tweeted, that highlighted “many great stories the press are missing” in the hacked emails of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
- Expressed concern about being viewed as a pro-Trump, pro-Russian source and suggested that Donald Trump release his tax returns through WikiLeaks to lend the website an appearance of neutrality and boost the impact of “the vast amount of stuff that we are publishing on Clinton.”
- Advised Trump Jr. on Election Day that his father should not concede, if he were to lose.
- Advised Trump Jr. to make public his own emails setting up a campaign-year meeting with a Russian lawyer, which he did.
- Suggested that President-elect Trump should ask Australia to name WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange its ambassador to the United States.
Trump Jr.'s willingness to engage with WikiLeaks certainly doesn't help the president's effort to fumigate his campaign of any whiff of collusion with Russia. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, nominated by President Trump, described WikiLeaks in April as a “nonstate hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
But Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager, argues that the media can't criticize Trump Jr.'s contact with WikiLeaks because the media has reported on WikiLeaks disclosures.
“The mainstream media covered WikiLeaks on multiple occasions throughout the campaign for the release of those [Podesta] emails,” Lewandowski said Tuesday on CNN. “So you can’t say that they’re a Russian agent or whatever you claim that they are — maybe they are; I have no idea — and then use them when it’s convenient for the Podesta email chain.”
To state what ought to be obvious, this is a false choice. WikiLeaks can be, as Pompeo described it, a “nonstate hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia” and also a source of newsworthy information.
Media outlets can question WikiLeaks' motives and methods but they cannot pretend that true, important information does not exist, once it is made public. Yet Lewandowski seemed to suggest that the media should have imposed a WikiLeaks blackout during the campaign.
“You took information that you say came from a Russian agent, which is WikiLeaks, and you perpetuated it in your news coverage because it was newsworthy,” Lewandowski said.
The irony here is that the Trump campaign would not have wanted the media to ignore the Podesta emails published by WikiLeaks. Portions of the emails cast Clinton's campaign and the Democratic Party in an unfavorable light.
But Lewandowski is now trying to frame media coverage of the Podesta emails as a liability that weakens the media's authority to scrutinize Trump Jr.'s interactions with WikiLeaks.