WASHINGTON ― Both Donald Trump and his campaign chairman said Sunday they had nothing to do with altering the Republican Party’s position on Ukraine ― which must have been news to GOP leaders who confirmed last week that Trump’s campaign insisted on exactly that change.
The modified party platform drops its call to provide arms to Ukraine in response to Russia’s occupation of that country’s Crimea province in 2014. It represents a victory for Russian president Vladimir Putin, who soon after annexed the region.
Two Republican National Committee officials acknowledged privately last week that Trump’s campaign pushed for the change, which was made in platform committee meetings in the days prior to the start of the Republican convention in Cleveland two weeks ago.
Nevertheless, the celebrity businessman told ABC News on Sunday that he didn’t even know about the change until afterward.
“I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved,” Trump said.
Meanwhile, his top aide, Paul Manafort ― who for a decade was an adviser to the Russian-backed president of Ukraine until he was removed from office in 2014 ― similarly told NBC News that the new wording was not his idea. “It absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign,” he said.
Neither the Trump campaign nor the Republican National Committee responded to requests for comment Sunday. But last week, two RNC officials praised Trump for not pushing the party’s conservative grassroots activists to alter language on gay marriage or abortion. They said that, apart from the Ukraine change, Trump’s campaign seemed generally uninterested in the platform altogether.
The platform does not bind Republican candidates who win office and is often seen by political professionals as creating unnecessary vulnerabilities for the party. Still, the RNC officials said it was unusual but not surprising that the Ukraine plank was the only thing of concern to the Trump camp, given Manafort’s business ties to the country’s former president, Victor Yanukovych.
In the ABC interview, Trump at first said that Putin would not invade Ukraine: “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK? Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.”
But after “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that Putin already had done so, Trump blamed President Barack Obama for it ― but went on to suggest that he might recognize Russia’s claim to the region. “I’m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also,” he said.
Trump and his campaign have come under increasing criticism over his statements supporting and praising Putin, particularly after the recent theft and public release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. Obama said last week that Russia appeared to be behind the hack, while Trump called on Russia and others to hack into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails. He later said he was being sarcastic.