Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to distance the White House from President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has come under intense scrutiny recently for alleged ties to the Russian government.
Manfort’s name was mentioned more than two dozen times in a Monday hearing before the House Intelligence committee on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and exclusive reporting today by the Associated Press alleges Manafort worked to advance Kremlin interests years before his involvement in the Trump campaign.
"Obviously there’s been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time," Spicer said in a March 20 White House press briefing, responding to a reporter’s question about references to Manafort during the hearing.
That struck us as wrong, and Spicer seemed to walk back his comments in a subsequent press conference -- while still downplaying Manafort’s role.
"I know I commented on this the other day and clearly, I should have been more precise with respect to Paul's role, so let me clarify this and kind of go through the facts," Spicer said.
Given the White House's continued efforts to distance itself from Manafort, we decided to review the facts ourselves around his involvement in the Trump campaign.
Manafort’s early role in the Trump campaign
In March 2016, then-candidate Trump tapped Manafort to manage the Republican National Convention. In a press release announcing the hiring, Trump praised Manafort as "a great asset and an important addition" in consolidating the support Trump won during the primary season.
"Paul Manafort, and the team I am building, bring the needed skill sets to ensure that the will of the Republican voters, not the Washington political establishment, determines who will be the nominee for the Republican Party," Trump said in a statement that highlighted Manafort’s extensive political experience in "dozens of international political campaigns."
About a week later, Trump expanded Manafort’s portfolio to include all functions related to the nomination process, as well as additional roles coordinating outreach efforts and establishing a new office in Washington, D.C.
"I am organizing these responsibilities under someone who has done this job successfully in many campaigns," Trump said in a statement. "Paul is a well-respected expert in this regard and we are pleased to have him join the efforts to Make America Great Again."
Manafort also began appearing on national television to represent the campaign. Manafort’s April 24 appearance on Fox News Sunday was posted on the Trump campaign’s official website, for example. (The post has since been removed, but can be seen here.) In his Sunday show interview, Manafort defended Trump’s campaign style and evolving strategy, and went on offense against then-Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, calling Trump’s most formidable rival for the Republican nomination a "liar."
Manafort’s promotion to Trump campaign chairman and chief strategist
On May 19, Trump promoted Manafort to campaign chairman and chief strategist.
Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks said that Corey Lewandowski, who had been managing the Trump campaign, would "continue overseeing day-to-day operations and will work with Manafort on political strategy and communications, among other things, through the general election."
In weeks leading up to the July Republican National Convention, the Trump campaign announced it had hired veteran pollster Kellyanne Conway to "serve as senior advisor to the campaign chairman, Paul Manafort."
Roughly one month after the July GOP convention, with Trump’s poll numbers in decline and the campaign dealing with ongoing controversy, Trump announced Manafort’s resignation, concluding Manafort’s 20-week tenure with the campaign.
"This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign," Trump said in an August 19 statement." I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process. Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success."
Spicer said Manafort had a "limited" role with the Trump campaign, but even Spicer admitted himself that characterization wasn’t correct. Not only did Manafort work to consolidate Trump's support ahead of the Republican National Convention, but he was later promoted to campaign chairman and chief strategist. He made multiple media appearances on behalf of Trump and worked alongside Trump’s closest advisers.
We rate Spicer’s statement False.