As you might imagine, the White House is attempting to distance itself from the Monday revelation that a former Trump campaign chairman (Paul Manafort) has been indicted for money laundering while a former Trump campaign adviser (George Papadopoulos) has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about contacts with purported representatives of the Russian government. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders clearly wanted to establish a theme at Monday’s press conference when discussing the cases:
- “Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president and nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity.”
- “[Papadopoulos’ plea] has nothing to do with the activities of the campaign, it has to do with his failure to tell the truth. That doesn’t have anything to do with the campaign.” (Papadopoulos' attempt to set up a meeting between campaign officials and Russian individuals "was denied," Huckabee Sanders said. "He reached out and nothing happened beyond that.")
- “Again, there are no activities or official capacity in which the Trump campaign was engaged in any of these activities.”
When it comes to Manafort, at least, this is technically true: He’s only charged, at the moment, with crimes related to work in Eastern Europe that began before he joined Trump’s operation. But it's a pretty big stretch when it comes to Papadopoulos, who advised the campaign on foreign policy. The special counsel court filing about Papadopoulos’ case makes clear that high-level Trump campaign figures were aware of his attempts to set up a Trump–Russia meeting; it also documents two occasions on which a “campaign supervisor”—who the Washington Post suggests may have been Trumpworld figure Sam Clovis—explicitly signed off on Papadopoulos' work. Here’s one:
Great work indeed! Here’s the other:
When a reporter asked Sanders how her denial of official involvement squared with the reality of a “campaign supervisor” having instructed Papadopoulos to “make the trip,” she simply said she didn’t know that had happened:
I’m not aware of that conversation so I can’t speak to that.
Indeed, why should one be expected to learn the facts about a given situation before making an official statement about it on behalf of the president of the United States?
For what it’s worth, the special counsel’s filing says Papadopoulos did not end up making a trip to Russia. But it doesn't appear, as Huckabee Sanders would have you belive, that his efforts failed for a lack of official campaign support.