Manafort downplays Melania controversy with counterattack

Trump's manager Paul Manafort greeted by a delegate. Laurie Gay is at left.


Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort greeted by Pat Longo, a Republican National Committee member. To his immediate right is Laurie Gay, now running a Trump super PAC.

Cleveland — Paul Manafort glided into the Connecticut delegation’s breakfast buffet Tuesday morning clutching a Starbucks coffee, fresh from what he called his “fun morning” on CNN and CBS responding to the Melania Trump plagiarism controversy by going on the attack against the media and Hillary Clinton.

“They just can’t get over the fact that Donald Trump is going to be the next president of the United States,” said Manafort, the New Britain native and Washington operative now running the Trump campaign and playing an increasing role as its secondary public face.

He arrived with Laurance “Laurie” Gay, the Connecticut friend and former lobbying partner protecting Trump’s flank with Rebuilding America Now, a Super PAC that launched last month with claims of $32 million in fundraising commitments.

Manafort smiled and noted that the campaign was responding in “typical Trump fashion” to allegations that Trump’s wife, Melania, had borrowed language Monday night from a speech Michelle Obama gave about her husband and family in 2008. That fashion, of course, is attacking, not apologizing.

“This is once again Hillary feeling threatened by a woman and going after her,” Manafort said. “Last night, what [Melania]  spoke about was how proud she was to become an American. Michelle Obama has no connection with that message.”

The Connecticut delegates laughed and applauded.

Paul Manafort talks to the press after meeting Connecticut delegates.


Paul Manafort talks to the press after meeting Connecticut delegates.

“The fact that both women love their family and love their children and have compassion, there is no ownership on those feelings or those words. As I said talking to CBS a few minutes ago, we know there was no intent, but there were 50 words that were the same. That’s what it’s coming to,” Manafort said. “There is nothing that is going to stop the fact that Melania Trump gave a very poignant speech last night that moved America, and the feeling is going to maintain itself regardless of how they try to disparage it today.”

“So, we’re in typical Trump fashion not backing down on that fact or any other thing that they may throw at us,” he said.

Manafort joined the Trump campaign as it struggled under the leadership of Corey Lewandowski, ostensibly to provide advice and guidance about navigating the delegate selection process and constructing a convention operation. Lewandowski’s recent firing confirmed what had become apparent: Manafort was running the campaign.

“Paul came in just at the right time. The delegate process was new to Mr. Trump, I think new to the staff that he had at the time. And Paul’s been doing it for almost 40 years,” Gay said.

Manafort has been a political operative for decades, but his association with Trump has made him a celebrity. He was besieged Tuesday by requests to pose for photos with delegates, even as an aide tried to nudge him out of the buffet toward the waiting black SUV.

He repeated what he has insisted for weeks: Connecticut is among the solid blue states that are in play this year.

“Not just Connecticut but states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon,” he said. “States that never are in play are going to be in play in 2016.”

Manafort reminded the delegates that the roll call for president starts at 6 p.m., and they will have a close view of history, a reference to the delegation’s prime spot at the front of the convention hall with New York and New Jersey.

“By 7:30, we’ll have a new nominee for president of the United States,” he said. “We look forward to you enjoying your front-row seats.”