WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30:  White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders answers reporters' questions during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House October 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his ex-business partner Rick Gates turned themselves in to federal authorities Monday in relation to the special counsel's investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election.
White House answers Manafort questions (full briefing)
17:34 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Sanders used a series of inaccuracies on Monday

She sought to distance Trump from Mueller's probe

Washington CNN  — 

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders used a series of inaccuracies on Monday when she tried to distance President Donald Trump from moves by special counsel Robert Mueller that represent the clearest connection yet between Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 election and Trump’s campaign.

George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, pleaded guilty in a document released Monday to making a false statements to the FBI after he lied about his interactions with foreign officials close to the Russian government. The announcement came on the same day former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign official Rick Gates were arrested. The indictment against Manafort and Gates contains 12 counts: conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading US Foreign Agents Registration Act statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

Sanders’ answers downplayed the response Papadopoulos received when he pitched the idea of a meeting between Trump campaign officials and “Russian leadership” to discuss US-Russian ties if Trump won the presidency. And played down Manafort’s substantial role in the victorious 2016 campaign.

Here’s a CNN fact-check of Sanders’ defense of Trump and the White House:

‘Outside the scope of the campaign’

Sanders, when pressed on Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, inaccurately stated that the activities outlined in a statement of offense occurred “outside the scope of the campaign.”

“These were activities that took place outside the scope of the campaign,” Sanders said when asked about whether Trump hires the best people.

Though Sanders is right as it currently relates to Manafort and Gates, whose indictments so far hinge on tax charges unrelated to the Trump campaign, that isn’t true for Papadopoulos, according to the statement of offense signed by Mueller.

According to the document, Papadopoulos reported his work with a professor based in London and a woman he believed to be related to Russian President Vladimir Putin (he later learned she was not related).

“Following his March 24, 2016, meeting with the Professor and a Female Russian National, defendant Papadopoulos emailed” a campaign supervisor to provide a readout on the conversation focused on trying to “arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russian ties under President Trump.”

According to the document, the supervisor said he would “work it through the campaign” and said even though no commitments should be made, added that it was “great work.”

The trip that Papadopoulos proposed never took place.

‘Nothing happened’

Sanders, when asked about Papadopoulos’ interactions with the campaign, said the foreign policy adviser “reached out and nothing happened beyond that.”

“I think (that) shows, one, his level of importance in the campaign; and two, shows what little role he had within coordinating anything officially for the campaign,” she said.

It is true that the trip with Trump, as outlined by Papadopoulos in the complaint, never took place. But saying that nothing happened isn’t accurate either.

The Mueller statement of offense details how two other campaign officials responded – in private – to an email from Papadopoulos that detailed a “request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump” by proposing a lower-level campaign official make the trip instead of the would-be President.

“Let’s discuss,” one official wrote in an email without copying Papadopoulos. “We need someone to communicate that (Donald Trump) is not doing these trips.”

The campaign official added, however, that “someone low level in the campaign” should go “as not to send any signal.”

CNN has been told by a congressional source that the exchange was between Manafort and Gates, the two officials who were indicted by the special counsel on Monday.

‘He was dismissed not too long after that’

Sanders essentially told reporters Monday that Manafort was nothing more than a delegate counter on the campaign.

But that belies his actual role as chairman of Trump’s operation for three months.

“The President hired Paul Manafort to handle the delegate process, which he did and he was dismissed not too long after that,” Sanders said when pushed on the significance of his indictment.

Manafort, a longtime Republican operative, spent five months on Trump’s 2016 campaign. While he was hired to deal with a bruising delegate process at the Republican National Convention, he also chaired the campaign for three months, regularly working with the Republican nominee and his family.

Manafort resigned in August.

But his role was far greater than just working on the campaign’s delegate operation.

Sanders is not the first White House official to try to diminish Manafort’s role.

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer inaccurately claimed in March that Manafort was someone “who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

‘He was not paid by the campaign’

Kevin Downing 10-30-2017
Manafort attorney: No Russia collusion
01:21 - Source: CNN

Sanders cast Papadopoulos as nothing more than a campaign volunteer on Monday, ignoring the fact that Trump called him an “excellent guy” who was an “energy and oil consultant” in an interview with The Washington Post.

“Look, this individual was a member of a volunteer advisory council that met one time over the course of a year and he was part of a list that was read out in The Washington Post,” Sanders said. “I’d hardly call that some sort of regular adviser.”

She added: “He was not paid by the campaign. He was a volunteer on, again, on a council that met once.”

The fact that Papadopoulos was unpaid puts him in line with many on Trump’s campaign and in no way a gauges his stature in the operation.

According to previous reporting, Manafort, Gates, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and senior strategist Steve Bannon were all unpaid “volunteers” while doing extensive, high-level work for the campaign.

CNN’s Jeremy Diamond, Evan Perez, Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.