On Eve of Big Debate Tonight, Campaign Dumps Arizona Trump Zealot

Last week, local resident Aaron Borders portrayed himself online and to the media as the Arizona State Director for the Donald J. Trump presidential campaign, and said he was traveling to Cleveland to help the Trump crew with the first Republican presidential debate.

But according to campaign officials and documents obtained by New Times, he does not hold that position currently —  nor did he ever.

Campaign staff also say Borders is not working on any debate preparations – an event for which all eyes across the nation seem to be on Trump – and add that if he’s in Cleveland (scene of the debate), it’s in no official capacity.

Border’s “appointment” to the state director position was first reported in the Arizona Capital Times Yellow Sheet Report (full clip below), and enthusiastically confirmed by Borders when New Times spoke with him on the phone last week.

New Times published an article describing Borders’ account of obtaining his position, which he says he was offered after helping to organize the Trump rally in Phoenix last month, as well as his political background – he lost by a small margin when he ran for the Arizona state House in 2014, and now holds the title of Second Vice Chairman in the Maricopa County Republican Party.

According to Borders, it was exactly because of his extensive political background and role in planning the Trump event – not to mention the glowing recommendations his political superiors sent on his behalf – that the Trump campaign first took note of him.

Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s national campaign manager, does not deny being impressed with Borders, but confirms that it’s what happened next that’s up for debate.

The way Borders tells the story, Lewandowski contacted him at some point after the event, and over the course of a few phone calls, essentially said, “Aaron, you’re our man. Are you interested in being the state director of the Trump campaign?”

Borders, an enthusiastic Trump fan, agreed right away and began drafting plans for a ground campaign, organizing volunteers, and procuring office space. He says that as far as he knew, he was doing a good job until he got an angry call from Lewandowski Monday afternoon.

Borders called New Times after getting off the phone with Lewandowski, explaining that he “just got chewed out” by the campaign because “no one speaks for Trump. He is a brand, not just a politician,” he says he was told.

Having received an e-mail ourselves a few hours earlier that said, “Aaron Borders is not and has never been employed by the Donald J. Trump for President campaign.” we asked him to prove his ties to the campaign with documents.

Borders conceded that he had never signed a contract or received any compensation from the campaign because his plan was never approved formally. (He had told us otherwise a few days earlier, touting himself as the appointed leader of the Trump campaign in Arizona.)

He also stated that the campaign was finalizing these documents and that he would be signing a contract this weekend, which is why he thought nothing of calling himself director a little early. (Lewandowski says this is not true, that no contract ever was drafted.)

Then on Tuesday, while still in Ohio, Borders says he received another call from Lewandowski, this time about an e-mail from a Buzzfeed reporter who wanted a comment about a series of racist, Islamophobic, and otherwise inappropriate Facebook postings he’d discovered on Borders’ wall. According to Borders, it was at this point that he was “fired” from the Trump campaign.

Contrast that account with Lewandowski’s version of what happened:

Lewandowski says he met Borders at the Trump event and was impressed by both his role in helping to organize it and what he had heard about his past political work, and so he encouraged Borders to put together a plan for a potential ground strategy for the campaign to consider.

“I tell everyone, you have a great idea, feel free to write it up and send it over,” he says, “and if it’s something that we’re interested in,” the campaign will be in touch and move forward with it.

Then, Borders jumped the gun and told the media he was the official state director — he also told New Times that the campaign was talking about making him director of other southwest states. Lewandowski says that because neither of these things were true, the campaign cut ties with Borders, telling him that he would be referred to as “an overzealous volunteer” from that point on. A title, Lewandowski adds, that accurately reflects Borders' role in the campaign from the very beginning.

“The campaign is not structured in a way that [one person would] oversee three states,” Lewandowski maintains. “So I don’t know what his motives are, but for him to intimate that he was asked to oversee the states of Utah, Nevada, and others is just wholly un-factual.”

While Buzzfeed  reported that “the Trump campaign originally falsely denied that Borders had any connection to the campaign," and intimated that Borders was hired as a staffer, a series of voice recordings and e-mails provided by Borders suggests that the truth is murkier.
Borders says he records all of his phone activity with an app, and sent some relevant recordings to New Times on Tuesday evening. Here’s the transcript from a portion of the conversation he had with Lewandowski a few weeks ago. In it, Lewandowski has just realized that Borders isn’t totally familiar with Arizona’s voting rules and regulations.

“Look, you come very highly recommended. People on both sides at the state party and the county party say great things about you, and I think that’s a really, really positive thing,” Lewandowski says. “But I don’t want to hire someone that I’ve got to teach how to do the job. If I’m going to hire someone, I want to make sure they know what the rules are.”

Borders says he “can get all that information in the next three days and learn it.” 

Lewandowski replies, “Right, but we don’t know what to implement if we don’t know what the rule are. If we don’t know how the game is played, we can’t go play the game,” 

Borders offers to send him an e-mail with the rules by the next morning and says he’ll get started on drafting a ground plan for review. Then, Lewandowski reminds him that only after the receiving his plan would the campaign say, as he puts it in the recording, “you’re the right guy for this thing, 100 percent love it, let’s do it." (Like a business soliciting requests for proposals before hiring a contractor.)

Shortly after the New Times story and the e-mail from Buzzfeed, another voice memo from Borders’ phone records Lewandowski saying, “Dude, this just isn’t going to work out with us. This just isn’t going to work...We just can’t have it for the campaign. Look there’s this [e-mail from Buzzfeed] plus the story today that says you’re the state director and linked to [us] without talking to me. We don’t have a formal relationship; we’re just going to have to separate that; there’s just no way around it.”

Lewandowski goes on to explain that "we don’t do staff stories, and we don’t do staff in stories, let alone stories that are embarrassing to the candidate." (Note: he never calls Borders a staff member explicitly.) "We’ll just tell Buzzfeed that there’s no formal relationship and that you’re an overzealous volunteer, and that you’re not part of the campaign in any way, shape, or form regardless of what any story says."

There was clearly miscommunication, since to Borders, those two conversations, plus many others and e-mail exchanges, meant he already had the job leading the ground campaign, even if the final documents weren’t signed.

But to the Trump campaign, nothing was formalized, even if staffers accepted Borders’ plans and ideas eagerly. (Borders provided an e-mail exchange in which he offers to help coordinate a rally in Cleveland while he’s up there for the debate, and Lewandowski and Michael Glassner, Trump’s National Political Director, tell him it’s a great idea and establish a phone date to discuss plans.)

“Bottom line, he can deny it all he wants,” Borders claims of Lewandowski. But "up until yesterday we were still solidifying the budget, and there was ZERO question that I was the guy."

After all is said and done, Borders says he accepts losing his position in the campaign humbly, and still believes Trump is the best presidential candidate out there. He sighs and adds that he's also just "the kind of guy where a handshake means something...but nothing in this campaign is done normally.”

Here is the full text of the Yellow Page report:
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has picked Aaron Borders, second vice chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Committee, as his state director for Arizona. Borders has already been aiding Trump, including helping to organize the candidate’s July 11 event in Phoenix, and he described the event as his “proving grounds” for the campaign. Additionally, he said Trump is impressed by his showing in last year’s LD29 House race, which he lost to Velasquez by only 1,236 votes despite running as a conservative Republican in a heavily Democratic district. “The record of being able to go into a Democrat district that was extremely lopsided and come out so close was one of the deciding factors in going, ‘OK, this guy can stay on point, stay on message, work hard and turn out the vote,’” Borders said. He said he spoke with Trump at the event, and wanted to ensure that the media mogul was committed before joining his team. “He looked me straight in the face and said, ‘I’m in it to win it.’ There was no waffling,” Borders said. Although Trump has raised the possibility of running as a third-party candidate if he feels the RNC is not giving give him a fair shake, Borders said he doesn’t think that is likely, and said he views the threat as leverage to get the national Republican Party to get off Trump’s back. Borders said Trump has five field directors and a finance committee in Arizona, though the campaign is not ready to announce any names, and is in the process of securing office space.

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser