The Associated Press is reporting that President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire in order to advance the agenda of Russian President Vladimir Putin across the former Soviet republics, Europe and in the United States during the mid-2000s. The AP investigation reveals that in 2006 Manafort signed a $10 million-a-year contract with Putin’s close ally, Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, to promote Putin’s interests. The AP report comes after FBI Director James Comey announced Monday the FBI is investigating whether President Trump’s campaign collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 election. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer sought to distance Trump’s campaign from Manafort.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “Even General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign. And then, obviously, there’s been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time. But beyond—”
Julie Pace: “But are you saying—”
Jonathan Karl: “But he was the chairman of the campaign.”
Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “Hey, Jon—Jonathan, hold on. Can you—can you stop interrupting other people’s questions?”
Jonathan Karl: “Paul Manafort didn’t play a limited role.”
Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “Hey, Jonathan, somebody’s asking a question. It’s not your press briefing. Julie is asking a question. Please calm down. Julie?”
Julie Pace: “Are you saying then that the president is aware of contacts that Manafort had been—”
Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “No, no, nothing that hasn’t been previously discussed.”
The New York Times reports that longtime Republican operative and Trump associate Roger Stone is also under investigation as part of the agency’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Meanwhile, the State Department has announced Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has proposed new dates for an April NATO meeting he initially said he’d skip. His initial decision to skip the meeting had sparked concerns among European leaders, especially since Tillerson plans to head to Russia later in April.