(CNSNews.com) - The White House said Monday that the indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates have nothing to do with President Donald Trump.
The White House also said that President Trump has “no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to the special counsel.”
“But look, today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity. The real collusion scandal, as we've said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, and Russia,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
“There's clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the president to influence the election. We've been saying from day one there has been no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all,” she said.
Furthermore, the fact that former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign George Papadopoulous pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI also has nothing to do with the Trump campaign, the press secretary said.
"It has nothing to do with the activities of the campaign. It has to do with his failure to tell the truth. That doesn't have anything to do with the campaign or the campaign's activities,” Sanders said. “Again, there are no activities or official capacity in which the Trump campaign was engaged in any of these activities. Most of them took place well before the campaign ever even existed.”
Papadopolous had a limited role with the campaign, Sanders said.
“It was extremely limited. It was a volunteer position. And again, no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign in that regard,” she said.
“What about the outreach that he was making to campaign officials to try to put together this meeting?” a reporter asked.
“You mean the outreach that was repeatedly denied and pushed away and said we're not going to take any action on that?” Sanders said.
When asked to explain what happened to Papadopolous’s outreach, Sanders said, “He reached out and nothing happened beyond that -- which, I think, shows, one, his level of importance in the campaign, and, two, shows what little role he had within coordinating anything officially for the campaign.”
Despite Monday’s indictments, Sanders said the White House expects Mueller’s investigation to wrap up soon.
As far as Manafort’s concerned, he and the president “haven’t spoken in several months,” the press secretary said.
“The last known conversation was back all the way to February, and as far as anything beyond that, with Paul, I'm not sure of any other contact,” she said.
And for Gates, “there was some initial contact after the president was sworn in with him at meetings here at the White House, but nothing directly with the president.”
Sanders was asked about Papadopolous’ affidavit claiming that he attended a March 31 foreign policy meeting which the president attended.
“He said that he talked about how Russia wanted to talk to the president. What did the president think when he said he wanted to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin? And how did other people in the campaign react to that?” a reporter asked.
“I'm not sure that the president recalls specific details of the meeting. Again, it was a brief meeting that took place quite some time ago. It was the one time that group ever met, and beyond that, I really don't have anything to add,” Sanders said.
The press secretary was also asked whether Trump would consider or rule out pardoning Manafort or Gates.
“I haven't had any conversations with him about that. I think we should let the process play through before we start looking at those steps,” she said.
Sanders said she wasn’t “sure of the specific date” when the president was first aware that Russia was behind the interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The White House isn’t worried about Mueller’s investigation distracting from the president’s tax reform plan or his other domestic or foreign policy priorities.
“We're not worried about it distracting because it doesn't have anything to do with us because this is something that is action that took place outside of the campaign or campaign activity,” Sanders said.
“How can you describe Mr. Papadopoulos' having a limited role when there's a photograph of Mr. Papadopoulos sitting at a table with then-candidate Trump at a national security meeting?” a reporter asked.
“The president has thousands of photographs with millions of people,” Sanders said.
“And he was also cited by then-candidate Trump in a meeting with the Washington Post as to who his top foreign policy advisors are. That seems to fight against what you're saying. And also how is it not collusion when George Papadopoulos is in contact with various people who are promising dirt on Hillary Clinton -- a series of events that closely mirrors what occurred with the president's own son? Did he contact Russians?” the reporter asked.
The press secretary said that Papadopolous was the 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.
“I'd hardly call that some sort of regular advisor or, as you want to push, that he's like a senior member of the staff. He was not paid by the campaign, he was a volunteer on a -- again, a council that met once,” Sanders said.
“And what about these activities? What about these collusion activities, Sarah? He was pursuing information from the Russians,” the reporter asked.
“Again, he was a volunteer. I think that's something you need to ask him. I'm not here to speak on behalf of the thousands of people that may have volunteered on the campaign,” Sanders said.