CNN and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign are unsuccessfully attempting to defuse the explosive new details surrounding ongoing payments from the campaign to former campaign manager and current CNN commentator Corey Lewandowski.
As reported by The Washington Post, Trump’s recent campaign filing disclosed that Lewandowski “was paid $20,000 in August by the campaign for what it described as ‘strategy consulting’” through his firm Green Monster Consulting. The Post also reported that “CNN has said previously that Trump’s payments to Lewandowski and his consulting firm were ‘severance’ for his employment by Trump.” However, as explained by the Post, “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.” Responding to the allegations, campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks maintained that Lewandowski is “no longer involved in the campaign [and] continues to receive monthly severance payments.”
Hicks’ statements on Lewandowski’s role and CNN’s ongoing employment of someone who is still being paid in some form by the campaign leave several unanswered questions: Where is the money for severance documented, given that the Trump campaign filings call payments to Lewandowski “strategy consulting,” the same term that they used to describe his work while he was employed by the campaign for the last year and a half? Has Lewandowski been double dipping -- i.e. taking money from the Trump campaign for work while also receiving severance? Was CNN aware that Lewandowski was still receiving “strategy consulting” payments from the campaign? Most significantly, why hasn’t CNN suspended Lewandowski already -- or, better yet, fired him?
As The New York Times noted, the fact that in its most recent FEC filing the Trump campaign listed the August payment “as ‘strategy consulting’” raises “questions about whether [CNN] in effect has a Trump campaign strategist on its payroll.” Politico’s Ken Vogel pointed out a similar issue on Twitter, writing that Trump’s payments to Lewandowski “in AUGUST” appears to be “awfully long after his firing for him to be collecting old fees” and that he couldn’t “remember any [other campaigns] paying severance to fired staff.” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple also raises the question of why Lewandowski is still receiving severance months after being let go from the campaign. Wemple quotes an employment lawyer suggesting the payments may be spread out as a way to “muzzle or control” Lewandowski:
A look at the timeline reveals that Lewandowski’s firing from Camp Trump occurred on June 20, or nearly three months ago. That’s a protracted severance-paying period, no?
It sure is, says employment lawyer Debra Katz of Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP. “The vast majority of severance agreements that we’ve negotiated are lump-sum payments,” says Katz, especially if the firms have the financial wherewithal to pay them. So structuring the severance payments over a number of months could be the approach of a cash-starved organization.
There’s another motive, however. “It is not uncommon to string them out as a way to muzzle or control the person who’s receiving the funds,” says Katz.
It's not just the recent filings in which Lewandowski was paid for “strategy consulting." According to Trump's FCC filings, Lewandowski has received the same type of payment for “strategy consulting” since April 1, 2015 -- before and after he was reportedly fired by the campaign and before and after he began his employment with CNN. It appears Lewandowski has never been paid directly by the Trump campaign, but instead those uninterrupted funds went to the firm registered to him.
As reported by the Post in August, this isn’t the first time the Trump campaign’s FEC filings did not seem to match how CNN explained -- and justified -- Lewandowski’s employment and the continued payments he was receiving from the campaign. On August 21, the Post noted in passing that FEC filings showed “Lewandowski received his regular $20,000 monthly fee on July 6 – two weeks after he was jettisoned and had been hired by CNN as a political commentator.”
But the Post’s new report based on the new FEC filings highlights something different -- and far more damning.
The July 6 disbursement to Lewandowski’s firm reported by the Post in August was a payment for the 2016 primary -- and could technically be for campaign work done in June, before he was a CNN employee. The newly discovered August 11 payment to Lewandowski is a “strategy consulting” disbursement for the 2016 general election, while Lewandowski was being paid by CNN to shill for Trump -- almost a full two months after he was supposedly fired by the candidate.
So is Lewandowski being paid three times? Twice by the campaign, once by CNN, and all for the same job?
Lewandowski will reportedly be on CNN later today. If neither the network nor the campaign can explain these discrepancies and answer basic questions about this ridiculous conflict of interest, maybe he will.