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- White House press secretary Sarah Sanders did not rule out the possibility Monday that President Donald Trump could fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller filed charges Friday against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign aide Rick Gates. Trump has grown increasingly frustrated over the Russia investigation in recent days.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined on Monday to unequivocally rule out the possibility of President Donald Trump firing special counsel Robert Mueller, though she said Trump had no plans to do so.
“There’s no intention or plan to make any changes in regards to special counsel,” Sanders said at the White House press briefing.
Sanders’ comments came on the heels of revelations that several Trump campaign officials had been charged as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business associate and protege Rick Gates were indicted and surrendered to federal authorities Monday morning.
Manafort is charged with 12 counts: conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
Newly unsealed court documents also showed Monday that George Papadopoulos, an early foreign-policy adviser to the campaign, pleaded guilty earlier this month to making false statements to federal agents.
Sanders sought to distance the White House from both Manafort and Papadopoulos on Monday. She said Papadopoulos’ role was “extremely limited” and a “volunteer position,” adding that “no activity was ever done in an official capacity.”
He sent at least six emails to top Trump advisers during the campaign offering to set up meetings with Russian officials, The Washington Post reported in August. The first of those emails was sent in March 2016 with the subject line “Meeting with Russian Leadership – Including Putin.”
Papadopoulos was in touch with Manafort about contacts with Russian officials, and Trump once referred to him as a foreign-policy adviser and an “excellent guy.”
Trump spoke out shortly after the Manafort news broke.
“Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign,” Trump tweeted. “But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”
“Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” Trump concluded.
Manafort has long been a central player in the Russia investigation. He was being scrutinized for possible financial and tax crimes, contacts with Russian officials, and his work as a foreign agent for entities linked to the Kremlin – particularly Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions.
It emerged in August that the FBI conducted a predawn raid on Manafort’s home in July, and agents working with Mueller left Manafort’s home “with various records.” The New York Times reported in September that following the raid, investigators working with Mueller told Manafort he was going to be charged with a crime.
Several observers pointed out Monday that the charges against Manafort were not related the Trump campaign and did not prove collusion between the campaign and Russia. But former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said Monday’s indictment did not mean the special counsel couldn’t later bring more charges.
“He can do that – it’s called ‘superseding,'” Mariotti wrote.
Trump in recent days has railed against the Russia investigation, whose focus includes examining whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the race in his favor. He has also repeatedly questioned why investigators aren’t focusing on Hillary Clinton, his 2016 Democratic rival.