Spicer says former head of Trump campaign played “minimal role” in Trump campaign
The White House on Monday tried to downplay the role of a former Trump campaign manager with ties to pro-Russia groups in Ukraine, incorrectly stating that he’d been employed by the campaign for about half as long as he actually was.
Press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters during a press briefing that Paul Manafort started working for Trump’s campaign in June 2016 and resigned in August. But that encompassed only the amount of time he served as campaign manager; he joined the campaign on March 28, taking over as campaign manager about 11 weeks later when Corey Lewandowski was fired.
Manafort played a “very limited role for a very limited amount of time,” Spicer said, adding that he was employed by the campaign for “eight weeks.”
Manafort was forced to resign from the campaign on Aug. 19 after reports indicated that he’d been paid close to $13 million by pro-Russia groups in Ukraine; Manafort had in the past lobbied for Viktor Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine now in exile in Russia. CNN recently reported that Ukrainian prosecutors want Manafort to testify in a corruption investigation involving the country’s former justice minister.
Spicer says Trump campaign manager barely worked for Trump campaign pic.twitter.com/gCBS9T18DX
— VICE News (@vicenews) March 20, 2017
Despite his forced departure, Manafort was reportedly a member of Trump’s transition team after the election. He also owns an apartment in Trump Tower in Manhattan.
When asked by a reporter how he could call Manafort’s role “very limited,” Spicer rebuked him for interrupting. Spicer later clarified: “Just so we’re clear, I’m not dismissing Paul Manafort as a hanger-on.” He then incorrectly identified the dates of Manafort’s employment.
Spicer also distanced the administration from two other former Trump advisors who have been linked to Russia: Mike Flynn, who was fired after misrepresenting to Vice President Mike Pence his communications with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before Trump took office, and Roger Stone, who admitted to communicating in private messages with the hacker known as Guccifer 2.0, widely believed to be an alias for Russian intelligence officers.
Spicer classified Flynn, who served as national security advisor, as a “volunteer of the campaign.” He said that Stone, Trump’s former campaign advisor, had not spoken to Trump recently.
The televised briefing from the White House aired at the same time as a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee James Gorsuch and a House Intelligence hearing at which FBI director James Comey confirmed the agency is conducting a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump and his administration colluded with Russia.
“To start to look at some individual that was there for a short period of time, or separately individuals who really didn’t play any role in the campaign, and suggest that those are the basis for anything is a bit ridiculous,” Spicer said. “To intimate that somebody who was there for eight weeks and definitely not there in the final three months of the campaign played some kind of lasting role that influenced…. My point is to suggest now that if you look at the final three months of the campaign, that none of the individuals in question that Democrats brought up over and over again today were affiliated with the campaign, to suggest that that somehow shows some kind of high-level collusion is a bit of a stretch to say the least.”