U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort appears at a press conference at the Republican Convention on July 19, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

White House finding new ways to throw Manafort under the bus

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer probably wasn’t trying to be funny this week with his answers about Paul Manafort, but he nevertheless generated laughter. Asked about Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, caught up in the Russia scandal, Spicer described Manafort as someone “who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

Manafort, of course, effectively ran the campaign when Trump secured and accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

Yesterday, Spicer went just a little further, dismissing the former Trump campaign chairman as someone who was on the team “for five months.”
“[Y]ou pull out a gentleman who was employed by someone for five months and talk about a client that he had 10 years ago? No, I can’t unequivocally say that nobody ever in his past, who may or not have come in contact with him, sat next to him in a plane, who grew up with him in grade school…”
At this rate, by next week, I half-expect Spicer to describe Manafort as “some guy Trump once said hello to.”

To be sure, I get the point of the White House’s anxiety. Trump’s former campaign chairman was paid millions to, in Manafort’s words, “greatly benefit the Putin Government.” Trump personally said that Manafort “was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia,” and that defense is now difficult to take seriously.

It’s obviously why Spicer wants to downplay Manafort’s role on Team Trump as much as possible.

But it’s too late. Salon’s Simon Maloy had a helpful piece yesterday noting that Spicer, during his tenure at the RNC last year, repeatedly said the opposite of what he’s saying now. Spicer described Manafort as being “in charge” of Trump’s political operation, “leading” the campaign team.

Unless White House aides have access to a time machine, it’s far too late to put fresh distance between Trump and the man Trump tasked with running his campaign.