White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the federal charges Monday against President Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort as having “nothing” to do with the president, and minimized the role of another Trump campaign associate who has pleaded guilty as part of the Russia probe and sought to turn the blame onto Hillary Clinton.
Sanders also, much like Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill, tried to keep the attention on the GOP tax overhaul that is supposed to be introduced this week.
“Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president,” she told reporters during Monday’s press briefing. “It has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity.”
The real scandal, as usual, was the Clinton campaign, not the possible Trump-Russia collusion that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating. (The Manafort indictment, however, was notably not directly connected to any coordination between the campaign and the Russian government.)
The Trump White House and conservative media have sought to spin the revelation that some Clinton associates may have paid for a dossier containing salacious claims about Trump into evidence that the entire Russia investigation — which is founded on much more than that dossier — is a “witch hunt.”
“There is clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding to smear the president and influence the election,” Sanders said, echoing President Trump’s own tweets over the past several days. “We have been saying from day one there is no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and nothing in the indictment changes that today.”
Sanders also sought to minimize Trump’s connection to Manafort as well as Manafort’s business associate Rick Gates, who was also charged Monday, and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who, we learned on Monday, had pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators back in the summer.
Trump hadn’t spoken with Manafort since February, to her knowledge, Sanders said. Papadopoulos, meanwhile, had an “extremely limited” role in the campaign, though pictures have been published of Papadopoulos attending a meeting with Trump and now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the campaign.
“It was a volunteer position,” she said. “No activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign.”
Sanders demurred when asked if Trump would rule out firing Mueller as his investigation ramps up. Previous reports have suggested that Trump might try to oust Mueller if the probe goes in directions he doesn’t like.
“There is no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to [the] special counsel,” she said.
Instead, Sanders, much like House Speaker Paul Ryan, did her best to keep the press focused on tax reform.
“He is not worried about it distracting [from tax reform and other issues] because it is nothing to do with us,” she told reporters.
In fact, she went so far as to open the briefing with a lengthy, somewhat inscrutable fable about the complexities of the tax system and the need for reform. It was an attempt, it appears, to justify a tax plan in which the biggest windfalls would be directed to the wealthiest Americans: