White House struggles with questions about the Russia scandal

Image: Sean Spicer
White House Press secretary Sean Spicer speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington,...
At yesterday's White House press briefing, a reporter asked Press Secretary Sean Spicer about the day's most shocking report: Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was paid millions of dollars a year to "benefit" Vladimir Putin's government in Russia. Spicer responded by talking about Hillary Clinton -- mentioning her seven times.Later, at the same briefing, NBC News' Peter Alexander asked the press secretary, "[C]an you say with certainty with right now that there isn't anybody else that's working in the interests of another foreign government working for this government right now?" Spicer wouldn't answer the question directly.And then, of course, there were the questions about whether the president was aware -- or should have been aware -- of Manafort's foreign lobbying work. Spicer didn't seem to appreciate the line of inquiry. From the official transcript:

"[Manafort] was a consultant, he had clients from around the world. There is no suggestion that he did anything improper. But to suggest that that the president knew who his clients were from a decade ago is a bit insane. There is not -- he was not a government employee. He didn't fill out any paperwork attesting to something. There is nothing that he did that suggests, at this point, that anything was nefarious. He was hired to do a job; he did it. That's it -- plain and simple."

As part of the same Q&A, Spicer added, "No, the president was not aware of Paul's clients from last decade. No." Asked if that lack of scrutiny is a problem, the press secretary said, "What else don't we know? I mean, where he went to school, what grades he got, who played he played with in the sandbox?"That's a nice little soundbite, but it's hardly persuasive.As a Washington Post report noted, "It is true (obviously) that campaign employees are not subject to the same federally mandated vetting process as government hires. However, that does not mean Trump could not or should not have asked Manafort whether any of his consulting work might present a problem for the campaign.... Checking for political liabilities in the professional background of your campaign chairman is hardly a frivolous endeavor."Trump personally said that Manafort "was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia." Perhaps if the president and his team were willing to do some due diligence, he would've known that this claim appears to be untrue.What's more, all of this comes on the heels of Spicer arguing this week that Manafort, in his capacity as chairman of the Trump campaign last year, was someone "who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time" in the effort.That's pretty much the opposite of what Spicer said in June.