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Former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski Reacts To Manafort Verdict

Aug 21, 2018
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There were big developments today in two federal courtrooms for two close associates of President Trump. In northern Virginia, Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, but the jury did not reach a verdict on 10 other counts. And just before that news broke, we learned that in Manhattan, President Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to multiple charges. These charges include two campaign finance violations that are linked to payments made to two women claiming they had affairs with Trump.

So what does this all mean for President Trump? Well, we reached out to Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager. He joins us now. Welcome.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So on the tarmac today in West Virginia, President Trump told reporters that Paul Manafort is a good man. He reiterated that the Russia investigation is just a big witch hunt, something that he's been saying a lot. But let me ask you, Corey. How can this be a witch hunt? This investigation yielded enough evidence to produce guilty pleas from Cohen, convictions for Paul Manafort and others. There has been real evidence of wrongdoing. Where's the witch hunt?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I think where the president takes exception to the Mueller investigation is that this was supposed to be an investigation into the collusion - excuse me - coordination or cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russian officials to try and impact the outcome of the election, and the guilty verdicts that Paul Manafort received today predated his tenure at the Trump campaign by at least 10 years and, in most cases, 12 years. And what he was found guilty of were violations of tax fraud and dealing with overseas banks and not disclosing those assets to the U.S. government. That has nothing to do with what the Mueller probe was stood up for. And moreover, if you look at what Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney, has pled guilty to, again, those are lies of...

CHANG: Lies?

LEWANDOWSKI: ...Not being appropriate when you're trying for a bank transaction, tax fraud. And those have nothing to do with collusion with the Trump campaign. And so this witch hunt...

CHANG: That said, Cohen directly...

LEWANDOWSKI: ...Is specifically about that.

CHANG: That said, Cohen directly implicated the president. I mean, he said that a federal candidate presumed to be Trump directed him to make those payments. How concerned are you about the legal risk that President Trump could be now exposed to?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I know Michael Cohen very well. I ran the campaign. Michael has been a serial liar for the last...

CHANG: If Cohen is such a liar...

LEWANDOWSKI: ...Three years that I've known him.

CHANG: If Cohen is such a liar, why do you think President Trump kept him around for so long?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, it's a great question, but I just go back and look at what Michael Cohen has said. First he said there were no payments ever made. Then he said he did it on his own without the advice or consulting of the candidate or Mr. Trump. And then he called it fake news, and now he's saying because he is going to court and being convicted and pleading guilty to things which had nothing to do with Donald Trump, which include tax evasion and bank fraud, that he was directed to do it. So which time is Michael Cohen telling the truth, before or now? Nobody knows. And the truth is Michael Cohen doesn't tell the truth.

CHANG: The way Trump is speaking right now, it seems he's trying to show he is not worried about either Cohen's plea deal or Manafort's convictions. What do you think? Do you think your former boss is actually concerned now?

LEWANDOWSKI: I don't think he has any reason to be. Clearly as it relates to the Manafort convictions, that had nothing to do with Mr. Manafort's tenure during our campaign, and all predated it by at least a decade. As it relates to Mr. Cohen - right? - there is nothing there that shows that Donald Trump had any knowledge of what Michael Cohen was doing. Michael Cohen has admitted to the papers and on numerous occasions that Donald Trump had nothing to do with the transaction. He did it on his own.

CHANG: Would you support the president if he ultimately decides to pardon either Cohen or Manafort or both of them, quickly, in the last 15 seconds we have left?

LEWANDOWSKI: I think that's a long way to go. I don't see how that would happen anytime soon. And I think that justice was served today with the Manafort convictions and also...

CHANG: OK.

LEWANDOWSKI: ...With Michael Cohen pleading guilty.

CHANG: Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, thank you.

LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.