Lewandowski, who was Trump’s campaign manager for 18 months before he was fired and essentially replaced by Manafort in June 2016, said Tuesday that Trump’s campaign didn’t have the ability to perform thorough background checks on staff members. The FBI, he said, should have tipped the campaign that Manafort was under investigation before Trump hired him.
“If it is true” that Manafort was under surveillance before he was hired, “then I think the FBI should have probably notified the campaign,” Lewandowski said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday.
“Never was I contacted, nor was the president or the candidate contacted, about any relationship that Paul Manafort might have had by a government authority,” he continued.
When “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy asked if it was typical for federal investigators to alert a campaign about such a matter (it’s not), Lewandowski doubled down on his dubious assertion.
“I don’t know,” Lewandowski said. “But what I do know is if ... there is a person who is joining the campaign in a high-profile capacity, and that person happens to be under some type of surveillance by the FBI for potential wrongdoings, you would think that just from a security standpoint they would come and brief the campaign and say, ‘Look, we’ve got some concerns about this person.’”
Earlier in the interview, Lewandowski claimed Manafort, who was forced to resign as campaign chairman in August after news reports revealed he had close business ties to pro-Russian leadership in Ukraine, joined the campaign in a “very limited capacity.” Manafort was indicted Monday on charges of conspiracy and money laundering in the investigation into whether the campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election.
Lewandowski’s initial characterization of Manafort as “limited capacity” is a frequent sleight-of-hand tactic by Trump and his defenders aimed at distancing themselves from anyone who may have had ties to Russia during the campaign.
On a “Today” show appearance minutes earlier, Lewandowski also attempted to create distance between the campaign and George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser who has been cooperating with the FBI on the Trump-Russia probe as part of a plea deal for lying about his Russia contacts.
Lewandowski claimed he didn’t know whether he was the “high-ranking official” who FBI documents say received emails from Papadopoulos about Russia during the campaign.
“As the campaign manager ... I was receiving thousands of emails a day,” Lewandowski told “Today” host Savannah Guthrie. “You’re asking me to remember an email from April of 2016 on any given day I would have received a thousand emails and this would have potentially come from a low-level volunteer.”
Trump on Tuesday also downplayed Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, calling him a “young low level volunteer.”
Below is a picture of that “low-level volunteer” sitting with then-candidate Trump at a national security meeting in March 2016. Papadopoulos is third from left.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated George Papadopoulos’ name as Greg Papadopoulos.