On Monday, Spicer made the laughable claim that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
By Thursday, he had downgraded him even further.
Asked by CNN if Spicer could “unequivocally” say that associates of Trump did not collude with Russian operatives during the presidential election, the press secretary thought that the word “associate” was too amorphous a description for Manafort—he was really only some guy whom Trump had employed at one point or another.
“The way that the term associates is thrown around, I don’t understand what that means,” Spicer contended. “You’re talking about employees of the campaign, employees of the transition or in the White House—that’s one thing.”
“You pull out a gentleman who was employed by someone for five months and talk about a client that he had ten years ago,” Spicer continued. “No, I can’t unequivocally say that nobody ever in his past who may or may not have come in contact with him, who sat next to him at a plane, who grew up with him in grade school.”
The CNN reporter interrupted to remind Spicer that Manafort was the head of Trump’s campaign for several months. And yet, the press secretary went on to say that the word “associate” was only used because reporters don’t have “anything concrete.”
This is the latest example of Spicer seemingly distancing himself and the White House from the campaign chairman who joined the operation in late March of 2016 and resigned in August, as Manafort continues to be the subject of inquiry and damaging reports.
The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that Manafort had worked with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska over a decade ago on a plan to influence American politics to favor Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government.
Additionally, the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russian officials has now been revealed to be part of an official FBI inquiry with at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee saying there is “more than circumstantial” evidence of collusion.
But Spicer hasn’t always been so cautious about what Manafort’s true role was in the campaign.
In June of 2016, shortly after Trump’s first campaign manager Corey Lewandowksi was fired, Spicer declared: “Paul’s in charge.” He also tweeted videos and pictures of Manafort at the RNC on a couple of occasions.
It’s not immediately clear why Spicer’s memory of Manafort’s role has seemingly changed.