After FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress that the bureau is actively investigating whether there are any links between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, the White House went to incredible lengths to distance the president from some of his closest allies during the campaign -- including one of his three campaign managers.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at his daily press briefing on Monday, held while Comey continued his testimony on the Hill, that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort actually “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
Last week, CNN reported that Ukrainian prosecutors have repeatedly appealed to the U.S. government, including letters to the FBI director, for help in questioning Manafort in regards to an ongoing corruption case. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Manafort was targeted for blackmail by Ukrainians who claimed to have proof that he received $12.7 million in cash payments from an organization supporting pro-Russian former Ukraine Pres. Viktor Yanukovych.
The news that Trump’s former campaign chairman is wanted for questioning in a Ukrainian corruption case came one day after The New York Times reported that longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was ordered by the Senate Intelligence Committee not to destroy any documents which might be connected to an investigation of Russia.
On Monday, Spicer attempted to distance Trump from the controversial figures who helped propel the president into the White House.
“I heard some names floated around before, that were hangers-on around the campaign,” Spicer said of the first half of Comey’s testimony. He then said that, "there is a fine line between people who want to be part of something that they never had an official role in and people who actually played a role in either the campaign or the transition."
Pressed by reporters incredulous that he could dismiss Trump’s second campaign manager as having “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time," Spicer doubled down.
"By the middle of August,” Spicer said of Manafort, “he was no longer with the campaign, meaning that for the final stretch of the general election he was not involved."
Manafort, of course, ran Trump’s campaign for several months last year after original campaign manager Corey Lewandowski resigned amid controversy over his manhandling of a female Breitbart writer. Manafort later resigned in August, while he was facing scrutiny for his ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
“So to start to look at some individual who was there for a short period of time, or separately individuals who really didn't play a role in the campaign, and to suggest that those are the basis for anything is a bit ridiculous," Spicer chided reporters Monday.
But after Manafort resigned, Trump thanked him for "his great work in helping us to get where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process."
Spicer even went on to describe Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, forced to resign after it was revealed that he spoke with the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions during the transition, as a “volunteer of the campaign.”
Spicer’s spin on the embattled Trump associates is so laughable that even Fox News’ correspondent had a hard time swallowing it whole.