Lewandowski Demanded Cash After MAGA-Land Kicked Him to the Curb
“It doesn’t matter if he’d asked for five dollars, it wasn’t going to happen,” one individual familiar with the situation said.
Last week, Donald Trump announced the exile of his confidant and former top campaign aide Corey Lewandowski, with advisers banishing him from leading a major pro-Trump super PAC, following sexual misconduct allegations against the loyalist from a big GOP donor.
But Lewandowski, initially, wouldn’t go, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.
What followed, the sources described, was what amounted to stages of denial and bargaining before ultimately being abandoned by the world he claimed to dominate.
Lewandowski, at first privately and then publicly through a lawyer, denied the details of the alleged incident. When that didn’t work, he resisted leaving. Lewandowski then subsequently settled on pitching Trumpworld a not-so-modest proposal: in exchange for his resignation, the super PAC and the pro-Trump team would pay him a large sum of money to go away. Two of the knowledgeable sources said the former 2016 Trump campaign manager’s demand was for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But even though that Lewandowski super PAC—called Make America Great Again Action—currently sits on $6.58 million, mostly from Trump megadonors, he didn’t have the leverage he seemed to think he had. His fellow Trump lieutenants gave him a hard no.
“It doesn’t matter if he’d asked for five dollars, it wasn’t going to happen,” one individual familiar with the situation noted bluntly.
One person who was keen on Lewandowski walking away empty-handed was none other than his ex-boss and pal: former President Trump. The twice-impeached ex-president didn’t want to see Lewandowski slinking away with any of that money—which Trump views as his money, despite the patina of distance that is legally required between candidates and super PACs.
Shortly after Lewandowski made his request, Trump was briefed, according to two of the sources with knowledge of the matter, and scoffed at the idea of paying Lewandowski a large sum of cash to be ousted.
Instead of grappling with the notoriously belligerent operative, however, his MAGA Action colleagues simply abandoned him. Within days of Lewandowski’s firing they’d spun up a new super PAC, with a strikingly familiar name: Make America Great Again, Again! A pointed press statement on Monday declared the new group “the ONLY Trump-approved super PAC,” making no mention of the wayward former leader by name.
Lewandowski and his attorneys did not respond to requests for comment on this story. Neither did officials at the post-Lewandowski super PAC.
Lewandowski’s fall from MAGA grace stems from allegations last week that he had sexually assaulted a major donor to his own super PAC at a charity event. His accuser, Trashelle Odom—who is married to a top Idaho developer—claimed in a statement to Politico that Lewandowski had made a series of unwanted advances over the course of the evening, grabbing her buttocks and one of her legs, boasting about his genitalia, speaking to her lewdly, and flashing his room key. The Odoms reportedly asked the super PAC to refund their $100,000 if the group did not sever its ties with Lewandowski.
While Lewandowski’s own demands came up short this go-round, he was acting on precedent. After his ignominious dismissal during Trump’s first run—also prompted by accusations of assaulting a woman—Lewandowski scored a fat $20,000-a-month severance, netting him a total of nearly half a million dollars for his 14 months of service.
If the new super PAC’s name sounds familiar, it is. A number of Trump-aligned fundraising groups draw from a common argot. In addition to MAGA Action and MAGA Again!, those committees include Trump Make America Great Again, Make America Great Again PAC (his old campaign committee), and America First Action.
That redundancy immediately drew ridicule and raised questions about why the crew needed to create a new super PAC in the first place. But it appears the stakeholders saw little choice.
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted on Monday that Lewandowski was “one of two board members,” and with 50 percent control of the super PAC could not be voted out. This, Haberman noted, is what precipitated the take-my-ball-and-go-home fallback plan.
Because Lewandowski’s committee was a super PAC, federal election law prohibits the group from coordinating directly with candidates. And while Trump has not publicly taken responsibility for axing his former top aide—and while the group itself appears to have met with difficulty removing him—it is generally understood that Trump, the de facto leader of the Republican Party, was the person who ultimately made the call.
Lewandowski had been handpicked by Trump as early as February to helm MAGA Action, which announced its launch in late May. The Daily Beast previously reported that the rehabilitation of Trump’s former campaign boss was said to mark yet another nascent schism in Trump’s inner circle, with the opportunistic Lewandowski—one of the most widely disliked fixtures in Trumpworld—filling a vacuum left by certain aides and other associates who had sought some distance from Trump amid the fallout from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which he had championed.
MAGA Again! officially announced Lewandowski’s ouster in a press statement on Monday, declaring that the net assets on MAGA Action’s $6.58 million balance sheet would be transferred to the new group. But that transfer hasn’t been confirmed, and the next round of federal financial disclosures is due in January. MAGA Again! representatives did not reply when asked directly about the transfer.
That process is normally straightforward, according to Dan Weiner, campaign finance law specialist at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“Super PACs can accept unlimited donations, and there are very few prohibitions on the source of those funds,” Weiner said. “It’s pretty normal to see super PACs send large amounts of money to other super PACs, so my guess is that they’d just cut a check and be done with it.”
But that may not be such a simple task if Lewandowski can still legally exercise control over the group and its spending. And while Trump’s spokesperson Taylor Budowich told The New York Times earlier this week that Lewandowski “will no longer be associated with Trump World,” he may still try to cling to the super PAC, along with its data and its millions in contributions.
Elsewhere in MAGAland, Lewandowski’s enemies—of which he’s made many in prominent GOP circles over the years—rejoiced.
“I remember the day I was fired from Trump’s 2016 campaign, and I got calls from reporters saying they’d just spoken to Corey Lewandowski,” Sam Nunberg, a former political adviser to Trump, said on Wednesday. “This, even after I was told that my termination was going to be done quietly. This is someone who is a power-hungry, talentless, amoral psychopath who hit the jackpot with Donald J. Trump… He’s a piece of trash.”
Nunberg added, “Let me get this straight: Lewandowski allegedly sexually harasses a donor. The donor and her husband complain. And Corey then refuses to graciously resign and make Donald Trump’s life easier? After everything Donald Trump has done for him? Wow, what a classy guy, real class act.”
The MAGA Again! press statement made the break appear as clear as possible. The group declared its independence from MAGA Action, laid claim to Trump’s personal endorsement, and announced new leadership. Pam Bondi, a longtime Trump ally who currently heads up America First Policy Institute—a Trump-adjacent “dark money” nonprofit—will chair, and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle will serve as National Fundraising Chair.
While Bondi and Guilfoyle caught the press, MAGA Again! also features a quieter power. The group also works with veteran Republican fundraiser and strategist Susie Wiles, who brings institutional experience and party prowess to the table—not typically a strong suit in Trumpland.
One GOP strategist told The Daily Beast that Wiles, who earlier this year was tapped for a number of key roles in the Trump fundraising apparatus, was inserted as a stabilizing force.
“Susie is the smartest person in Trumpworld, partly because she keeps a low profile,” this strategist remarked, adding that Wiles was brought onboard to “streamline and professionalize the process” and “build it into something that’s not just a grift for someone to make money.”
Wiles also serves as a bridge between the increasingly insular Trump and the party writ large. As of the end of June, the former president had not given money to any candidate, according to campaign finance records, though his various affiliated committees hold roughly $200 million cash on hand.
“Obviously these groups are Trump’s, so they will prioritize Trump and his agenda above the party. But as far as his political strength is tied to his ability to work with the party, and help other candidates, she’s the right person for that,” the strategist said.