White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday sought to downplay the roles of President Donald Trump’s associates who might have had contacts with Russian officials during the campaign amid a high-profile congressional hearing on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
During a press briefing, Spicer said some of those who are under investigation for their connections to Russia, which is thought to have interfered in the 2016 election to attempt to swing it in Trump’s favour, didn’t have prominent roles on the Trump campaign — including one of Trump’s former campaign managers.
“At some point, people that got thrown around at the beginning of this hearing, some of those names, the greatest amount of interaction that they have had is [having] cease and desist letters sent to them,” he said.
Spicer said he was referring to people like Carter Page, an early foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign.
“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,” he said.
When asked whether, in light of the recently announced FBI investigation into the matter, Trump stood by his comments that he’s not aware of any contacts that his campaign associates had with Russia during the election, Comey said he does.
He then tried to downplay the role that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager for a few months during the election, had in the campaign.
“Obviously there’s been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time,” Spicer said.
Later during the briefing, another reporter followed up on Spicer’s suggestion that Manafort played a “limited role” in the campaign, and Spicer clarified his comments.
“Just so we’re clear, I’m not dismissing Paul Manafort as a hanger-on,” Spicer said. “… I believe Paul was brought on sometime in June and by the middle of August he was no longer with the campaign, meaning that for the entire final stretch of the general election, he was not involved.”
He continued: “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.”
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