Paul Manafort, a man who once managed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was only a bit player in the political operation, White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed Monday.
“There’s been a discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time,” said Spicer, who clarified that Trump stands by earlier claims that he wasn’t aware of contact between campaign officials and Russia during the election.
Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager in March 2016, amid the team’s effort to lock up the GOP nomination ahead of the Republican National Convention. Manafort had previously served as senior adviser to former Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych, a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was ousted in 2014.
Manafort left the Trump campaign in August amid scrutiny over his ties to pro-Putin politicians, and was named earlier this year as a target of a U.S. probe into Trump and his associates’ ties to Russia.
At a House Intelligence Committee hearing Monday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that intelligence and law enforcement agencies were still investigating potential collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Comey declined to disclose further details about that investigation, including who it might be examining.
But the renewed focus on possible impropriety by individuals in Trump’s orbit has once again forced the administration to play defense. Speaking Monday, Spicer also tried to put distance between the White House and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn stepped down last month following revelations that he’d met with the Russian ambassador to discuss U.S. sanctions and then mischaracterized the nature of those conversations to Vice President Mike Pence.
“Even Gen. Flynn was a volunteer,” Spicer said.
Although Flynn served in that capacity throughout the campaign, his final meetings with the Russian ambassador came after Trump had named him as national security adviser.
Manafort released a statement through his spokesman in which said he was “disappointed” by allegations that he or anyone else from the campaign had conspired with Russian officials.
This article has been updated with comment from Manafort.