White House downplays Russia probe charges against Manafort, Papadopoulos


The White House said Monday that newly unveiled criminal charges against former Trump campaign officials, including onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort, have "nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity."

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed Manafort's importance to the campaign, saying he was hired to run then-candidate Donald Trump's delegate operation ahead of the GOP convention and dismissed not long afterward.

She also said foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos was working in an "extremely limited" and "volunteer" position, and that he was repeatedly rebuffed or ignored when he made requests "to do things."

"Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity," Sanders told reporters at the White House.

According to court documents unveiled Monday, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier this month to a charge of making false statements to the FBI, and has agreed to cooperate with the government amid a probe by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

29 PHOTOS
Members past and present of President Trump's inner circle
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Members past and present of President Trump's inner circle
Ivanka Trump: First daughter and presidential adviser
Gen. John Kelly: Former Secretary of Homeland Security, current White House chief of staff
Steve Bannon: Former White House chief strategist, no longer with the Trump administration
Jared Kushner: Son-in-law and senior adviser
Kellyanne Conway: Former Trump campaign manager, current counselor to the president
Reince Priebus: Former White House chief of staff, no longer with the Trump administration
Anthony Scaramucci: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: White House press secretary
Donald Trump Jr.: First son to President Trump
Sean Spicer: Former White House press secretary, soon to be no longer with the Trump administration
Jeff Sessions: U.S. attorney general
Steve Mnuchin: Secretary of Treasury
Paul Manafort: Former Trump campaign chairman
Carter Page: Former foreign policy adviser to Trump's presidential campaign
Omarosa Manigault: Director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison
Melania Trump: Wife to President Trump and first lady of the United States
Jason Miller: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Hope Hicks: White House Director of Strategic Communications
Mike Dubke: Former White House communications director, no longer with the Trump administration
Stephen Miller: Trump senior policy adviser
Corey Lewandowski: Former Trump campaign manager
Eric Trump: Son to President Trump
Rex Tillerson: Secretary of State
Michael Flynn: Former National Security Advisor, no longer with the Trump administration
Sebastian Gorka: Former deputy assistant to the president in the Trump administration, no longer in his White House role
Roger Stone: Former Trump campaign adviser, current host of Stone Cold Truth
Betsy DeVos: U.S. Education Secretary
Gary Cohn, director of the U.S. National Economic Council, walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, July 5, 2017. President Donald Trump's encounter this week at the Group of 20 summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin is raising concerns among veteran American diplomats and analysts about a mismatch between a U.S. president new to global affairs and a wily former Soviet spymaster. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Court documents show Papadopoulos was in contact with the Trump campaign about setting up a meeting between Trump and Russian officials, and met with a professor who claimed ties to the Russian government and said the Russians had "dirt" on Trump competitor Hillary Clinton.

Sanders said Papadopoulos' role with the campaign was very limited, describing him as a "member of a volunteer advisory council that met one time over the course of a year."

"No activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign in that regard," she said. "He reached out and nothing happened beyond that, which I think shows one, his level of importance in the campaign and two, shows what little role he had within coordinating anything officially for the campaign."

Around the same time Sanders spoke with reporters, Manafort and his longtime business partner, Rick Gates, were entering not guilty pleas to conspiracy and other charges at a federal courthouse in Washington.

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Rick Gates and Donald Trump
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Rick Gates and Donald Trump
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 30: FILE PHOTO Rick Gates looks on as GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump checks the podium early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be President at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday July 20, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 30: FILE PHOTO Rick Gates looks on as GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump checks the podium early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be President at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday July 20, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 30: FILE PHOTO From left, GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump, campaign manager Paul Manafort and Rick Gates stand on stage during their podium check early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be President at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday July 20, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 30: FILE PHOTO From left, Rick Gates, GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump,flanked by campaign manager Paul Manafort and daughter Ivanka, campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner stand on stage during their podium check early Thursday afternoon in preparation for accepting the GOP nomination to be President at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday July 20, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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Manafort was with the Trump campaign for five months, taking over as campaign chairman in May 2016 and then resigning in August of that year amid scrutiny of his dealings with pro-Russia interests in Ukraine.

Gates joined Manafort in working for the Trump campaign and reportedly remained after Manafort's departure. He eventually joined the outside, Trump-supporting group America First Policies, but was reportedly pushed out because of his ties to Manafort.

An official with the group told the Daily Beast on Monday that Gates' "association with America First Polices [sic] was informal and limited."

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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