- Corey Lewandowski previously denied that Trump paid actors to appear at his 2015 campaign announcement.
- Yet the first Trump 2016 campaign manager recently told Insider the opposite.
- Insider reported this moment as part of its definitive oral history of Trump’s rise in the GOP.
Donald Trump’s top 2016 aide previously denied the campaign paid actors to appear at the future president’s big campaign launch announcement at Trump Tower, yet that same official recently told Insider people were indeed hired to show up.
Trump kicked off his candidacy at his New York City skyscraper in a speech on June 16, 2015, appearing before a large crowd of what seemed to be his supporters. The event immediately prompted speculation about how Trump managed to draw in a sizable group of people .
“I remember thinking,’Man, I’m surprised he couldn’t even get people there. That seems insane,'” Sarah Isgur, the deputy campaign manager for 2016 presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, told Insider as part of an oral history project chronicling one of the most unorthodox GOP primaries the country has ever seen.
Read more: The definitive oral history of how Trump took over the GOP, as told to us by Cruz, Rubio, and 20 more insiders
At the time, The Hollywood Reporter published a report that said the Trump campaign offered actors $50 to attend the launch.
“It seemed strange,” Amanda Carpenter, then-communications director for 2016 candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, told Insider. “I was watching the coverage of’Oh, did they pay people to show up? Who were these people?'”
The Trump campaign fiercely rejected the claims. Corey Lewandowski, then-Trump’s campaign manager, told Insider at the time that he “unequivocally” denied the allegations.
“You know Donald Trump. There is nobody who believes that when Donald Trump goes somewhere he does not generate the biggest, largest, and most rambunctious crowds on the planet,” Lewandowski said. “It’s just not true, unequivocally. The Donald Trump campaign and Donald Trump did not pay anybody to attend his announcement.”
Fast forward to today, and Lewandowski has another take on the situation.
“That’s a Michael Cohen special,” Lewandowski told Insider. “Michael Cohen decided that he was going to go hire one of his buddies and pay his buddy without getting any campaign approval. You know, $50 for every person to come in, to stand in Trump Tower.”
Cohen, Trump’s then-personal attorney, had a different assessment. Speaking to Insider for the Trump oral history project, he said Lewandowski was fibbing about the payments to actors. Cohen said Trump hired David Schwartz, a partner at the Gotham Relations & Communications public relations firm, to organize the event “professionally.”
“Any allegation of payments to actors is an absolute lie that was promoted by Corey Lewandowski,” said Cohen.
Reached for comment, Schwartz confirmed to Insider his firm had been hired to orchestrate the entire campaign announcement.
“That event was really our brainchild: The most famous escalator ride in the history of politics was that one,” he said. “Bottom line is, we had thousands of people there, and then the press accused us of hiring thousands of actors. Based on the fee that I got, that would not have been a good business decision on anyone’s part.”
“The reality is we hired 50 people, some of whom were part-time actors I found out later on. But we hired 50 people to help coordinate an event that brought in thousands of people,” Schwartz added.
A 2-minute video posted June 16, 2015, on YouTube from Schwartz’ firm touts its work at the Trump campaign event. It features Schwartz using a bullhorn and leading a call-and-response to the pro-Trump crowd in the lobby of Trump Tower.
Trump’s 2016 presidential aspirations were initially seen in political circles as a joke, even though he consistently polled well among Republicans in a large field that included well-established candidates like Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie. Many mocked his Trump Tower event in 2015 and saw the exercise primarily as an opportunity for Trump to market his brand of hotels, golf courses, and other merchandise.
“He was not a serious person at that point,” said Josh Schwerin, a former spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. “There had been debate of will-he-won’t-he for a really long time. It didn’ t seem like a serious thing.
To read the full Trump oral history story, click here.