Manafort Blames Media for Trump Controversies

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort talks to the media from the Trump family box on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 18. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort knows why the Republican presidential nominee can't seem to go a day without striking another controversy–the media doesn't play fair.

"Besides running against Hillary Clinton, he's running against the media," Manafort told Jake Tapper Sunday in an often contentious exchange on CNN's "State of the Union." Manafort was peppered with questions about Trump's eventful week and defended the candidate's comments on the Second Amendment, sidestepped seemingly inconsistent Trump remarks about his economic plans and avoided a question about a campaign co-chairman's remarks that refreshed the Khizr Khan Gold Star family imbroglio.

With the "liberal media" narrative a fail-safe tactic in the GOP playbook, Manafort suggested that the media should take Trump's secondary explanations for his comments as fact—but didn't explain why Tapper and the wider media should seemingly downplay the initial comments that spark outrage.

"This week was a substantive week. He talked about an economic plan. And Hillary Clinton presented her economic plan...Our plan very clearly laid out how he was going to cut taxes, lower the tax rates for small businesses, how that would create more jobs...And she laid out a program which, frankly, is exactly what this administration is doing, raising taxes, raising spending, increasing the national debt. There was a debate that could have been had there. Instead, the media chose to take the Clinton campaign narrative and go on attack on Donald Trump," Manafort charged. Tapper pointed out the obvious: "One of the reasons that Mr. Trump's message about the economy on Monday was sidetracked was, of course, when he raised the possibility of Second Amendment people taking matters into their own hands to stop Clinton from appointing pro-gun control judges."

Manafort, like the candidate and Trump surrogates, insisted that Trump's remarks about a President Clinton picking judges could be addressed by "Second Amendment people" was not a threat—and despite the litany of politicians, Republicans, Democrats and people on the street taking it as one, "most people did not interpret it that way," Manafort said. "It was not meant at all to be a threat. But the point, again, is you could have covered what he was saying, or you could try and make—take an aside and take the Clinton narrative and play it out. And you chose to do that instead. You took an aside that the Clinton narrative told you was something, Mr. Trump told you he didn't mean, and you played it out for two days," he said, drawing Tapper's ire.

"Just as a factual matter, on Monday, my show covered Mr. Trump's speech, OK? We did. We covered Mr. Trump's speech. We covered the narrative. And we did cover those Hillary Clinton e-mails. So, these things, just because you say them, they're not—they're not true," Tapper said. "And Mr. Trump bears no responsibility for his campaign being off-message? His comments about the Second Amendment had nothing to do with why we weren't covering the economic message?," asked an incredulous Tapper.

The economic plan Trump unveiled this week was surprisingly consistent with recent Republican orthodoxy—tax cuts, less regulation—and has been criticized by some, celebrated by others, for embracing the trickle-down economic theory, where breaks to job producers and the wealthy cascade down to the working- and middle-class. Or, as Tapper put it, the plan offers the "biggest monetary benefit going to the top 1 percent," which contrasts with comments Trump made in September 2015 and March 2016 saying he favors raising taxes on the wealthy and "it's going to cost me a fortune." Manafort told the CNN host that Trump's announced economic plan is not inconsistent with his prior comments, although the top income tax bracket would be lowered to 33 percent, not raised, although Trump wants to restrict deductions on the wealthy.

"But it wouldn't cost Mr. Trump a fortune, is my point," Tapper said.

Manafort declined to respond to comments made by Carl Paladino, the Trump campaign's New York co-chair, in which he smeared the Khan family as supporting the "ISIS-type of attitude against America" and said they don't deserve the Gold Star label. Manafort said he had not heard the remarks and tried to change the subject to the Orlando massacre shooter's father being in attendance at a public Clinton rally.

"You didn't address the question at all," Tapper said.