Whenever anyone in Donald Trump's orbit runs into trouble, the White House turns to the first page in its playbook: pretend the president doesn't know the people he obviously knows.
When Paul Manafort was indicted, for example, Trump’s former campaign chairman became some random staffer “who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” When White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign in disgrace, Team Trump decided he was “a former Obama administration official” who did some “volunteer” work for the president.
Carter Page was described as someone Trump “does not know.” George Papadopoulos was dismissed as a “coffee boy.” Trump World even tried to downplay its association with Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign’s favorite data firm.
This morning, it was Roger Stone's turn.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders appeared on CNN and said Stone's criminal indictment "has nothing to do with the president," despite the indictment's extensive discussion of his campaign-related efforts. It led to this exchange between CNN's John Berman and the president's chief spokesperson:
BERMAN: "Nothing to do with the president." On this show, a couple of months ago, Corey Lewandowski [Trump's former campaign manager] used to tell me it would make him crazy when then-candidate Trump would talk to Roger Stone on the phone -- and it would happen a lot. So there is a connection between Roger Stone and the now-president of the United States. You would concede that?SANDERS: Look, Roger Stone is somebody who's been a consultant for dozens of Republican presidents, and candidates, and members of Congress.
She then quickly transitioned to complaining about Hillary Clinton and James Comey.
The trouble, of course, is that Stone's indictment highlights the direct connections between him and the president and his political operation. Stone partnered with Team Trump soon after the candidate kicked off his candidacy, and according to the indictment, he "maintained regular contact with and publicly supported" Trump's campaign through Election Day 2016.
He proceeded to speak with Team Trump about the information Russia stole in order to help put Trump in power, and the campaign in turn contacted Stone to ask about WikiLeaks' dissemination of the stolen materials.
The indictment specifically alleged that a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about WikiLeaks releases. When CNN asked Sanders this morning whether the president directed a member of his team to contact Stone about stolen emails, she wouldn't answer directly.
As for the press secretary's assertion that Stone's legal jeopardy has "nothing to do with the president," her boss' recent record doesn't exactly bolster the point. Trump published a tweet early last month praising Roger Stone, writing, " 'I will never testify against Trump.' This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about 'President Trump.' Nice to know that some people still have 'guts!'"
If the Stone case has nothing to do with the president, this seems like an awfully unusual thing for Trump to have published.