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White House: Charges against Manafort have 'nothing to do with' Trump

 (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The White House downplayed indictments on Monday against President Trump's former campaign manager and two other aides, including one who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, as having "nothing to do" with the president or his election effort.

“Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity,”  White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, and Rick Gates, whom the indictment called "Manafort's right-hand man," pleaded not guilty  to 12 charges of money laundering and conspiracy, the first charges filed in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to influence last year's presidential election.

The indictment alleges that for at least a decade, through 2016, Manafort and Gates failed to properly disclose more than $75 million in payments from Ukraine's government, then pro-Moscow, for lobbying and public relations to influence U.S. policy in its favor. 

"We’ve been saying from Day One there is no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all,” Sanders said, echoing earlier tweets from Trump. Like him, she sought to deflect attention by saying that "the real collusion scandal" is related to the Clinton campaign efforts to collect opposition research on Trump.

Sanders' dismissiveness was challenged, however, by the indictment and guilty plea of the third former aide, foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos, who confessed to making false statements about his contact with Russians during the campaign. He is cooperating with prosecutors.

Sanders sought to diminish Papadopoulos' role in the campaign, describing him as a member of a “volunteer advisory council” that met perhaps once. If so, it put him near the right hand of Trump, as a photo Trump once tweeted shows. 

George Papadopoulos is circled in this photo. None
George Papadopoulos is circled in this photo.

Sanders said Papadopoulos's outreach to senior campaign officials to have Trump meet with Russian officials "was repeatedly denied." He "reached out and nothing happened beyond that,” Sanders said.

“It has nothing to do with the activities of the campaign, it has to do with this failure to tell the truth,” she added.

When asked why Trump appears in the March 2016 campaign photograph with Papadopoulos, Sanders said Trump appears in “thousands of photographs with millions of people.”

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