To hear Sean Spicer tell it, Paul Manafort had a "limited role" in Donald Trump's successful presidential campaign. Never mind the fact that Manafort was involved in Trump's campaign for five months, ran it for two and managed preparations for the Republican National Convention.
But on Monday, Spicer would only characterize Manafort's role in the campaign as "very limited" and his duration with the campaign as a "very limited period of time." By Wednesday, Spicer had done a full 180 on Trump's former campaign chair to say it was "inappropriate to comment on a person who is not a White House employee." The comment came hours after an Associated Press report revealed Manafort spent at least three years working for a Russian billionaire to advance the political interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"[Manafort] was hired to oversee the campaign's delegate operations," Spicer said Wednesday. "In total, he was involved with the campaign for just over five months." Manafort was hired by Trump in March and resigned in August after new revelations about Manafort's past relationships with Ukrainian leaders and Russia.
A review of comments by Trump supporters and news reports from last summer show Manafort did far more than count delegates. Trump allies sang a very different tune about Manafort when he was involved with Trump's campaign, and numerous reports show he was integrally involved in campaign decisions in mid-2016.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said last August on Fox News that Manafort was an crucial part of the president's inner circle. Gingrich credited Manafort with stabilizing Trump's campaign and moving candidate Trump to the convention.
We have, in part, Manafort to thank for the fact Mike Pence is America's vice president. The Daily Beast reported in July that Pence met with Trump and Manafort at the Indiana Governor's Mansion. Manafort, along with Trump's children, reportedly convinced the president to tap Pence as his running mate. After Trump chose Pence, Manafort made the case publicly that policy differences between Trump and Pence did not mean they were incompatible. "Trump never said he wanted a yes man as president," Manafort told ABC News Sunday while speaking for candidate Trump in July.
When Corey Lewandowski, Trump's first campaign manager, was fired last April, Manafort completed his takeover of the Trump campaign. Numerous news stories show Manafort, publicly and privately, taking on the lead role managing all aspects of Trump's campaign.
"Manafort has gained control of an expanded $20 million budget, hiring decisions, advertising, and media strategy — domains that had been exclusively Lewandowski's," New York magazine wrote at the time. "I work directly for the boss," Manafort said of his campaign role in early April. As the president picked a fight with House Speaker Paul Ryan last May, Manafort took a public role trying to smooth over the relationship between then-candidate Trump and the speaker.
On Wednesday, Spicer attempted to make reports about Manafort's reported ties to Ruassia about the Hillary Clinton campaign. Spicer claimed that ties between John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chairman, and Russia were stronger than Manafort's.
For now, the jury is out on whether Manafort was connected to or working with Russians during his Trump campaign tenure, but his key role in the president's operation is beyond question.