Tuesday 23 May 2017

White House tries to distance Donald Trump from aides amid FBI Russia probe

A Ukrainian legislator said Paul Manafort was linked to attempts to hide a 750,000 dollar payment from a pro-Russian political party (AP)
A Ukrainian legislator said Paul Manafort was linked to attempts to hide a 750,000 dollar payment from a pro-Russian political party (AP)
The FBI is investigating possible connections between 'associates' of Donald Trump and Russia (AP)

The White House has tried to distance itself from two former senior members of Donald Trump's team amid an FBI investigation into possible connections between "associates" of the US president and Russia.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer referred to Mr Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn as a "volunteer of the campaign", and said Paul Manafort, who ran Mr Trump's campaign for months, "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time".

"To start to look at some individual that was there for a short period of time or, separately, individuals who really didn't play any role in the campaign and to suggest that those are the basis for anything is a bit ridiculous," Mr Spicer said.

He wrongly claimed Mr Manafort was brought on to Mr Trump's campaign "some time in June and by the middle of August he was no longer with the campaign".

In fact, Mr Manafort was hired in late March as Mr Trump's convention manager and was promoted to campaign chairman in May.

He resigned in mid-August amid an onslaught of negative press over his past work for foreign governments, including pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders.

On Tuesday, a Ukrainian legislator published a document he said ties Mr Manafort to attempts to hide a 750,000 dollar payment from a pro-Russian political party.

Serhiy Leshchenko revealed a 2009 invoice purportedly signed by Mr Manafort that shows a payment for 501 computers to a company called Davis Manafort. The money came from a Belize-registered offshore company through a bank in the Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan.

Mr Leshchenko said the contract was cover for payments made to Mr Manafort for work he did for the pro-Russian Party of the Regions, which backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Mr Manafort, called the allegations "baseless" and said they should be "summarily dismissed".

Mr Flynn was one of the president's closest advisers throughout the campaign and the transition, frequently travelling on his plane.

He was named national security adviser but resigned from the White House last month after he was found to have misled senior members of the administration about his contacts with Russia's senior diplomat to the US.

During a congressional hearing on Monday examining Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible connections between Moscow and Mr Trump's aides, FBI director James Comey was asked about various campaign advisers and staffers, including Carter Page, whom Mr Trump once named as one of his foreign policy advisers.

Mr Comey generally declined to talk about specific staffers.

In a letter to the Senate intelligence committee, Mr Page, who has emerged as a key figure in the controversy surrounding Trump associates' connections to Russia, cast himself as a regular presence in Trump Tower, where the campaign was based.

"I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Cafe, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year," he wrote.

It is unclear whether that is true. After the campaign, Mr Trump's lawyers sent Mr Page at least two cease and desist letters.

Mr Spicer described Mr Carter and other individuals mentioned during the hearing as "hangers-on".

"Those people, the greatest amount of interaction that they had with the campaign was the campaign apparently sending them a series of cease and desists," he said.

AP

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