UPDATED with Trump comments, 4:20 PM: Corey Lewandowski is “a good guy, a friend of mine, but I think it’s time now for a different kind of campaign,” Donald Trump said of this morning’s surprise sacking of his campaign manager.
“He’s a good man. We’ve had great success. I got more primary votes than anybody in the history of the Republican Party by a tremendous amount, not by a little bit,” Trump told Bill O’Reilly tonight on his Fox News Channel show. “We ran a small, beautiful, well-unified campaign. It worked very well in the primaries.”
Lewandowski was escorted from Trump Tower this morning and told CNN’s Dana Bash he did not know why he was let go, but that he was proud and honored to have been part of Trump’s campaign. “I’m really proud of him. He did a great job,” Trump told O’Reilly tonight. “But we’re going to go a little bit of a different route from this point forward. A little different style. He’s a good guy.”
PREVIOUS, 3:14 PM: Today’s Donald Trump campaign body count is now up to two. Michael Caputo, a Trump adviser who heads communications for Trump’s caucus operations team, resigned this afternoon and apologized for the “too exuberant” tweet he fired off upon learning Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has been given the hook, CNN reports.
“I regret sending out a tweet today alluding to the firing of Corey Lewandowski. In hindsight, that was too exuberant a reaction to this personnel move,” Caputo wrote in a letter to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, obtained by CNN. “I know this is a distraction from the kind of campaign you want to run, so I’m resigning my position as director of communications for caucus operations at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Let’s make this immediate.”
PREVIOUSLY, 11:20 AM: Corey Lewandowski insisted he had a “great relationship, no animosity” with Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as with Trump’s daughter Ivanka, and Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner, and did not know why he was fired this morning as the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s campaign manager.
“Nah I don’t think that’s true at all,” he told NBC News’ Ali Vitali of reports that Ivanka and Jared had a hand in his dismissal, later telling CNN’s Dana Bash, “I’m not sure where that’s coming from,” and insisting reports he was trying to plant stories unflattering to Kushner in the walk-up to the firing were not true.
“I’m proud of the campaign,” Lewandowski told Bash. “I also understand the reality of building infrastructure, coupled with the RNC’s 500 people on the ground and all the resources necessary” to win the general election.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Lewandowski said when asked point blank why he had not survived the pivot from primaries to general election. And yet, he also said of his sacking, “I don’t know if it’s so much of a surprise.”
In every interview this morning, Lewandowski argued that his Let Trump Be Trump approach that brought Trump a record number of votes in the primary, would put the candidate into the White House in the general election.
“What has been clear from the get-go, that my strategy has been and at some level was successful, was let Trump be Trump. And you’ve got a person who has completely changed the way that politics is viewed in this country, for the better,” Lewandowski told Vitali. Trump, he said, “has had his, his heart and his finger on the pulse of the American people for a long time. And so, you know, I like to say that I’m a person who’s been able to help implement some of his ideas and that’s what I’ve been able to do. But anybody to say that the family disagreed, I don’t think would be accurate.”
Lewandowski said he had a “nice conversation with Mr. Trump” this morning, in which he said, “It’s been an honor and a privilege to be part of that, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
He confirmed to Bash he had been escorted from the Trump campaign building, per “protocol in place” that “everyone follows.” But, he insisted, he was not escorted from the building by security. “It was a friend from the office.”
PREVIOUS, 10:46 AM: Late-night TV shows were handed tonight’s Donald Trump talking point early this morning with word that the presumptive GOP nominee had unloaded his lightning-rod campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
Later this morning, Lewandowski gave his first on-the-record statement on the development: “I stand by the fact that Mr. Trump is a great candidate and is better than Hillary Clinton ever will be.”
His statement followed one issued earlier in the day by campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks: “The Donald J. Trump campaign for president, which has set a historic record in the Republican primary having received almost 14 million votes, has today announced that Corey Lewandowski will no longer be working with the campaign. The campaign is grateful to Corey for his hard work and dedication, and we wish him the best in the future.”
The move was seen as a big win for Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who had butted heads with Lewandowski since joining the election effort this spring, though many news outlets credited Trump’s daughter and Celebrity Apprentice co-star Ivanka Trump with putting the final nail on Lewandowski’s campaign coffin.
Under Lewandowski’s Let Trump Be Trump strategy, the candidate won the primary with a record 14 million votes. To win the general election, it’s forecast Trump will need more than 65M; his fall in the polls has raised concerns about his campaign’s success pivoting to the general election.
Although the news came as a surprise this morning to Reporters Who Cover Politics, an early indication came Sunday morning when Lewandowski was canceled from Fox News Sunday and Manafort had been scheduled to appear on CNN’s State Of The Union but did not. Sen. Jeff Sessions stepped in for both.
In March, Trump vowed not to fire Lewandowski when he became his own storyline after Breibart reporter Michelle Fields accused Lewandowski of roughly grabbing her during a Trump rally.
“You are totally delusional. I never touched you. As a matter of fact, I have never even met you,” Lewandowski tweeted of Fields after she accused him of the assault. Later, video from Trump’s security cameras were released by Florida authorities, in which Lewandowski is seen grabbing Fields. Lewandowski was charged with simple battery in the incident, but David Aronberg, State Attorney for Palm Beach County in Florida, said the case was not strong enough to pursue.
“I’m a loyal person. I’m going to be loyal to the country,” Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper at the time. It would have been “so easy to terminate” Lewandowski. “I have fired many people, especially on The Apprentice.” But, Trump said, Lewandowski was defending him from Fields, who was carrying a pen that might have been a “little bomb” and who “was grabbing me – twice,” Trump said. “My arm. It’s never been the same, folks,” Trump joked, mocking Fields, as some members of Cooper’s audience chuckled.
“It’s a disgrace that something like that could take place. I’m shocked by it and I will stick by people,” Trump said. “When somebody is maligned so unfairly as that, I will stick by them.”