Previously published at GBH News.
Did a member of Donald Trump’s inner circle tell a woman he was trying to pick up that he’d killed two men during his misspent youth? And if he did say that, was he telling the truth — or was he merely boasting?
The answers to those questions could presumably be obtained through a vigorous probe by law enforcement officials as well as some dogged investigative reporting. But the story slipped beneath the surface almost as soon as it broke three weeks ago.
That lassitude stands in contrast to the endless updates we’ve been subjected to on what is rattling around inside Sens. Joe Manchin’s and Kyrsten Sinema’s heads at any given moment. Then again, “Dems in Disarray” is a narrative the media never tire of. Who cares if someone who may yet play a prominent role in Trump’s comeback is a killer, or likes to play one when he’s trying to impress women?
Our story begins on Sept. 29, when Alex Isenstadt of Politico reported that a well-connected Republican donor named Trashelle Odom was claiming that Corey Lewandowski — one of Trump’s 2016 campaign managers and still someone who has the former president’s ear — had made “unwanted sexual advances toward her at a Las Vegas charity event over the weekend.”
Isenstadt’s article included a number of disturbing allegations Odom had made about Lewandowski — that he had crudely bragged about the size of his endowment, that he had stalked and touched her and that “she grew fearful for her personal safety as Lewandowski described incidents of violence that took place earlier in his life.”
Isenstadt followed up on Oct. 1 with a report that Odom had filed a statement with police. Details, though, were lacking.
And here we come to the most problematic part of this saga. Because the following day the full text of Odom’s statement was made public — not by a reputable news organization, but by the Daily Mail, a sleazy tabloid based in the U.K. The statement contained all the salacious details, including Lewandowski’s alleged claim that he had killed two men by stabbing them in the back of the head, once when he was just a wee lad of 10, and again at some unspecified time when he was older.
Was the statement for real?
The quality media, understandably, have approached the document with rubber gloves and tweezers, alluding to Odom’s claims in general terms (remember, Politico had already reported on them) while staying away from the details contained in the alleged police statement. Neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post has reported Odom’s supposed claim about Lewandowski’s homicidal boasting.
Among those that have taken the plunge by citing the Daily Mail’s story are The Daily Beast, Salon, Mediaite and The Bulwark, an anti-Trump conservative website that ran a piece by Tim Miller mocking Lewandowki. But Miller also asked a serious question, and it’s one we all ought to ponder:
“Maybe the whole thing will turn out to be a hilarious mixup, the kind of sitcom setup that everyone laughs about later. Ross said to Rachel, ‘I stabbed five guys!’ And Chandler says, ‘Ix-nay on the abby-stay!’
“But also: Maybe not?”
Indeed. Maybe not. Assuming the police report is genuine and that Odom was telling the truth, it seems more likely than not that Lewandowski was lying, just as he was lying about running 400 miles a week and staying in “the Elvis suite.” But Lewandowski has a thuggish reputation as well as a history of women filing assault claims against him. So who knows?
Almost as soon as the Politico story was published, Lewandowski was removed from the Trump-aligned Super PAC he had been running. “He will no longer be associated with Trump World,” a Trump spokesman was quoted as saying. But as Maggie Haberman wrote in The New York Times, “Whether Mr. Lewandowski remains permanently banished from Mr. Trump’s orbit remains to be seen.”
The next day, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced that Lewandowki was being cut off from his role as an unpaid adviser to her campaign. Noem’s statement cited Odom’s allegations as the reason. Michael Scherer of The Washington Post noted, though, that Noem has also been hit with allegations that she and Lewandowski had an extramarital affair — rumors that she called “total garbage and a disgusting lie.”
After that, the story all but vanished.
Any day now, it seems, Trump will announce he’s running for president in 2024. Will Lewandowski be at his side once again?
Maybe Trump’s supporters, who don’t care that he was impeached twice and now praises the Jan. 6 insurrection he helped incite, also won’t care if one of his advisers may have boasted that he had fatally knifed two men. Maybe they won’t even care if it’s actually true.
But journalists ought to care. This isn’t a matter of political commentators gaming out how murder plays with undecided voters in swing states. This is as serious as it gets. I hope that teams of investigative reporters are looking into it right now.
I fear that they’ve moved on.