White House Tries to Distance Trump from Manafort, Papadopoulos

Indictment, guilty plea 'doesn't have anything to do with us,' Huckabee Sanders says

Then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, flanked by then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and and daughter Ivanka Trump at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July 2016. The White House wants to distance Trump from federal charges slapped on Manafort on Monday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House on Monday tried to distance President Donald Trump from two former campaign aides indicted for their business dealings and one who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators.

The White House was mostly quiet Monday about the morning’s dramatic developments: former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his top associate, Rick Gates, were hit with a dozen charges stemming from their private private business practices from 2006-2016. Ditto for George Papadopoulos’s guilty plea on lying to federal officials about contacts he had with well-connected Russians was revealed.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders aggressively tried to contend that the Manafort and Gates case has nothing to do with Trump or his White House, repeatedly telling reporters they are being charged with possible crimes committed “before the campaign even existed.” She also said nothing in court documents about the Manafort-Gates case released Monday morning has any connection to anything activities of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

On Papadopoulos, Sanders attempted to paint him as a low-level campaign staffer who had little impact on the campaign’s plans and strategies — and did not even warrant getting a paycheck.

She repeatedly referred to the 30-year-old former foreign policy adviser to the campaign as “a volunteer” and “unpaid.”

The plea deal released Monday states Papadopoulos did try to convince Trump campaign officials to set up a meeting with Russian officials. But Sanders tried to swat away any notion that anyone else involved with Trump’s White House bid had any interest in those meetings, saying Papadopoulos’s requests were never green-lighted by senior campaign officials.

“That shows his importance in the campaign,” she said, “and his role in coordinating anything officially for the campaign.”

Congressional Democrats responded to the indictments and plea deal by immediately calling on their GOP colleagues to pass legislation to guard special counsel Robert S. Mueller from being fired by Trump.

The president’s top spokeswoman signaled Trump is not inclined to fire Mueller at this time. But she left ample wiggle room in her response when asked if he intends to do just that, saying there is “no intention or plan” to do to Mueller what Trump did to former FBI Director James B. Comey. 

The message from White House officials perhaps is be summed up Sanders’ statement that they are are not concerned about the indictments or guilty plea because it “doesn't have anything to do with us.”

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