WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump sought to distance himself from former campaign chairman Paul Manafort Monday after special counsel Robert Mueller announced the first round of charges in his office's Russia probe.
Trump said the allegations against Manafort stem from "before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????"
"Also, there is NO COLLUSION!" the president added.
Trump was responding to the news that Manafort, along with longtime business associate Rick Gates, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 12 charges, including conspiracy against the United States. Gates and Manafort surrendered to law enforcement Monday, and entered a plea of not guilty.
Separately, another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, struck a cooperation deal with Mueller, secretly pleading guilty three weeks ago to lying to federal agents about his contacts with Kremlin-connected Russians, court filings unsealed Monday showed.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that the developments have "nothing to do with the president" or the president's campaign.
"The real collusion scandal has everything to do" with Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, Sanders said.
When pushed that the Papadopoulos' guilty plea does relate to the campaign, Sanders said, "It has nothing to do with the activities of the campaign. It has do with his failure to tell the truth."
She sought to minimize Papadopoulos' role as an adviser, calling him a "volunteer" in an "extremely limited" position for an advisory council that met just once. While Trump remembered that meeting, he did not remember specifics of conversations with Papadopoulos, Sanders said.
Sanders also told reporters that Mueller's investigation would be over "soon." Asked why she believes the investigation is nearing its close, Sanders said those were the indications the White House has at this time, but declined to elaborate further.
The three men are the first people to be charged in the investigation by Mueller into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia and Moscow's interference in the election last year.
Trump's tweets, meanwhile, marked the initial public reaction to Mueller's announcements from the president, who has been dogged by investigations into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign throughout his time in office.
One White House source, speaking on condition of anonymity to NBC News, said they were "not surprised" to see movement from the special counsel today, adding that "the White House has been saying for weeks the special counsel is moving far more quickly and deliberatively than people have been reporting. The fact that the special counsel is actively performing its duties does not come as a surprise to the White House.”