On March 14, Trump 2020 campaign adviser Steve Cortes, a paid CNN political commentator since 2018, defended President Donald Trump's recent suggestion that violence from his supporters might be justified, arguing that they should be able to “defend themselves” from “serious violence from the left.”
Cortes’ statements raise questions about the ambiguity of his dual roles, as well as the issue of the revolving door between CNN and the Trump administration and campaign. CNN has repeatedly hired current or former Trump staffers and surrogates as political analysts -- some of whom are contractually forbidden from criticizing Trump -- and they often add little to the public debate, serving only to defend Trump against criticism. And sometimes this revolving door leads to Trump officials moving to CNN and back into the president's orbit.
Before Cortes was hired by CNN, he referred to the network as “fake news.” In May 2018, he revealed that he went “to CNN partly at the suggestion of the White House itself and the president himself." Since then, he has adamantly vouched for Trump in his on-air role, making it clear that he will not criticize the president. He was introduced as a CNN commentator on air as recently as March 5, and his Twitter bio says he is still employed by the network.
This March 14 segment highlighted the conflict of CNN employing Trump surrogates. In his appearance, in which he was not introduced as a CNN commentator but as a member of Trump’s 2020 Re-elect Advisory Council, Cortes defended Trump’s comment in a Breitbart interview that he has “the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump,” and that, while they “don’t play it tough,” if they get “to a certain point, … it would be very bad, very bad.” Cortes said Trump was being misinterpreted and never advocated for violence. The anchor and fellow panelist pushed back on these comments and pointed out the numerous times Trump has encouraged violence, but the entire segment called into question yet again the value of CNN paying Trump surrogates, who routinely lie, use their positions to lobby for clients without disclosure, and promote racist views.
From the March 14 edition of CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront:
STEVE CORTES: And as individuals -- not as a military force, not as police forces -- as individuals, if they need to, they will defend themselves because we've seen a marked rise in serious violence from the left, from ANTIFA and from other groups. No, no, don't -- you can't blow this off. They are shooting congressmen, they are punching student activists in the face, they are rousting speakers from podiums on campuses across this country, and what he's saying is his supporters are tired of being pushed around. It's never OK to instigate violence, but it is very OK to defend yourself, and he's saying that if that's necessary, if the left continues the prevalence of violence, his supporters will be forced to defend themselves.