Sean Spicer's laughable effort to distance President Trump from Paul Manafort
To hear Sean Spicer tell it, Paul Manafort was a bit player in getting Donald Trump elected president. At a briefing on Monday, the White House press secretary actually described Manafort as having “played a very limited role for a very limited time.”
Except Paul Manafort was Trump’s de facto campaign manager, his top aide. And he held the position of “chairman” of Trump’s campaign for several months.
Trump hired Manafort in late March 2016 to lead his delegate effort with an eye on a contested national party convention. Toward the end of the primary calendar in mid-April, Manafort and Rick Wiley were reportedly given control of the campaign, as campaign manager Corey Lewandowski took on a smaller role. Wiley departed the campaign in late May, and on June 20, Lewandowski was fired. Manafort at that point became the clear leader of the campaign.
That was the case until mid-August, when Trump brought on Stephen K. Bannon as his campaign CEO and elevated Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager. Then, on Aug. 19, Manafort resigned over the questions about the direction of the campaign and — more importantly — increasing scrutiny over his ties to Ukraine’s pro-Russia former leader.
You could argue that Manafort wasn’t the unquestioned leader of the campaign for his entire tenure; but it’s completely nonsensical to say that he played a “very limited” role for a “very limited” time. He was guiding the campaign’s strategy while the primaries were still happening, and he was in charge of ensuring Trump’s delegate lead resulted in him being awarded the GOP nomination at the Republican National Convention.
There were at the very least two months in the campaign during which Manafort’s power within the campaign was clearly without equal. And there’s a pretty convincing argument to be made that he guided the campaign for about four months’ time.
It’s clear as day what Spicer is doing here. Manafort’s ties to Russia continue to be a huge headache for the White House’s efforts to downplay Russia’s alleged assistance in the 2016 campaign. Just this week, CNN reported Manafort was wanted for questioning in a Ukrainian corruption case.
But to argue that he wasn’t a major player in the effort to elect Trump is just laughable.