During a press briefing, Spicer was asked if, in light of FBI Director James Comey's announcement that his bureau was investigating possible coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, including “between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” President Donald Trump stood by his claim that he didn’t know of associates of his campaign being in contact with Russians during the presidential campaign.
“Yes,” Spicer said, before stopping.
“Well, can I just amend? Obviously just to be clear, I know that— I’m trying to think through this for a second because obviously General Flynn – ”
“During the campaign, before the election,” AP’s Julie Pace specified.
“Right, and I’m not aware of any at this time, but even General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign. And then obviously there has been some discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time, but beyond that –
“He was the chairman of the campaign!” ABC’s John Karl interjected.
Spicer continued without acknowledging Manafort’s role in the campaign.
“No, no, nothing that has not been previously discussed,” Spicer said, referring again to potential contact between Trump associates and Russians. “I just don't want to make it look like we’re not aware of the stuff that’s been…” he trailed off.
Later, responding to a question about Manafort’s role with the campaign – he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, was promoted to national chairman of the campaign in April, and resigned in August – Spicer again minimized his involvement.
“Just to be clear, I’m not dismissing Paul Manafort as a hanger-on,” he said, before referring to Carter Page and Roger Stone: “I was noting some other folks that Jonathan pointed out.”
Earlier in the briefing, Spicer responded to a question about the FBI’s investigation of Trump associates by saying that some of them, such as Page and Stone, were “hangers-on” who had no substantive involvement with the campaign.
“With respect to Paul, though, I believe, and again, I’m not looking to re-litigate the election, but I believe Paul was brought on sometime in June, and by the middle of August, he was no longer with the campaign,” Spicer said. “Meaning that for the entire final stretch of the general election, he was not involved. So to look at some individual that was there for a short period of time, or separately, individuals who didn’t really play any role in the campaign, and to suggest that those are the basis for anything, is a bit ridiculous.”
Spicer later said he was not aware of contacts between Manafort and operatives, or suspected operatives, of the Russian government.
Manafort, who at one point advised the pro-Putin Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, resigned in August, days after the New York Times reported that $12.7 million in cash payments had been set aside for him in an off-the-books ledger by Yanukovych’s political party.
Manafort was also listed in a New York Times report in February that Trump campaign associates were under investigation for their contact with Russian officials.
Manafort is reportedly now wanted for questioning by Ukrainian prosecutors in relation to a corruption investigation.