Week of turmoil continues for Trump as campaign chief quits
Embattled Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned yesterday - capping a week of dramatic changes for the Republican presidential nominee as he seeks to regain his footing against Democrat Hillary Clinton ahead of the November election.
"This morning, Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign," Trump said in a statement. "I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process. Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success."
Manafort had come under increasing media scrutiny because of his past consulting for the pro-Russian former president of Ukraine.
Trump on Wednesday named Breitbart News' Stephen Bannon his campaign CEO, and adviser Kellyanne Conway his campaign manager, effectively demoting Manafort amid the Ukraine scrutiny - and a string of polls showing Trump badly lagging Clinton.
The personnel moves are far from the only change to Trump's campaign this week.
At a rally on Thursday in North Carolina, Trump struck a rare note of apology for rhetoric that he acknowledged had offended people. "Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing," he said.
"I have done that, and believe it or not, I regret it."
Yesterday, his campaign also announced it planned to spend nearly $5m to air his first television ads, including one that contrasts him and Clinton on border security, immigration and Syrian refugees.
"I think campaigns have different phases," said Representative Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, one of the first House Republicans to back Trump. "Certainly, Manafort did his job in getting the delegation together and bringing it home at the convention."
Now, DesJarlais said, Trump's campaign is entering a phase where the focus should be on raising money, advertising, and Clinton.
"He's in a good position considering we really haven't gone after Hillary," DesJarlais said.
The status of Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates, was unclear. A campaign official who asked not to be named said Gates was no longer with the organisation, but a person close to Gates denied that. Gates declined to comment.
Gates was named in a report on Thursday that said the two men "never disclosed their work as foreign agents as required under federal law."
The two have said their work wasn't the type that required registration, according to Associated Press, which said they declined to comment.
Roger Stone, a former business partner of Manafort, denied the chairman had quit because of infighting.
"He resigned because he thought the unfair and unfounded attacks on him would become a distraction and he doesn't want to do anything that hurts the election of Trump," Stone said. "The idea there was any discord with Bannon or Kelly is just not true. They had everything kind of worked on what they'd do."
Eric Trump, Donald Trump's son, also suggested the "distraction" of the Ukraine press was a major factor, according to Fox News.
"I think my father didn't want to be, you know, distracted by whatever things Paul was dealing with" or to distract from the issues "looming" over Clinton, the network quoted Eric Trump as saying.
The Clinton campaign signalled that it plans to continue linking Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Paul Manafort's resignation is a clear admission that the disturbing connections between Donald Trump's team and pro-Kremlin elements in Russia and Ukraine are untenable," Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said in a statement. "You can get rid of Manafort, but that doesn't end the odd bromance Trump has with Putin."
This week was the second major change in Trump campaign leadership. Trump's first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, exited in June after Manafort was brought on to help smooth Trump's path to the Republican National Convention in July where he was formally nominated.
Manafort, a veteran political operative, was seen as capable of professionalising Trump's campaign after Lewandowski oversaw a hard-scrabble primary victory.
Lewandowski will not be rejoining the campaign, said a person familiar with the matter.