White House tries to distance Trump from Manafort

Manafort was Trump's campaign chairman from May to mid-August last year

(CNN) – The White House is distancing itself from former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is becoming a focus of the investigation into contacts between Trump associates and Russians.

Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary said, “How many people have to say there is nothing there before they see that there is nothing there.”

The administration is moving fast to put distance between President Donald Trump and the man who is rapidly emerging as a key interest in the Russian hacking investigation, Paul Manafort.

Spicer said, “Obviously, there’s been this discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

Manafort was Donald Trump’s campaign chairman from May to mid-August last year, overseeing the staff, the budget, and dismissing early claims by Democrats that Russian hackers targeted their party’s computers to tilt the election Trump’s way.

Manafort said, “They certainly are getting desperate rather early in the game.”

Now, a lawmaker in Ukraine said he has discovered a new document in an office where Manafort worked as he advised the former Ukrainian President, Victor Yanukovych. The lawmaker said the paper looks like an invoice for $750,000 in computer parts allegedly signed with Manafort’s name.

A spokesman for Manafort said Manafort does not recognize the document and it’s not his signature and CNN can not verify the authenticity of the invoice.

If it is legitimate, however, it could dovetail with the so called “black ledger”, a longer list revealed last fall which purports to show 12.7 million in payments alongside Manafort’s name. That lawmaker who found the new document believes all the money could be for undisclosed services paid for through the Ukrainian President’s political party.

Why would such payments matter to the U.S. Investigation of the Russian hacking scandal? Because the former Ukrainian President, Manafort’s client, was a Kremlin ally, even fleeing to Russia when he was driven from power.

Manafort dismisses any suggestion there was a corrupt river of money flowing from the Kremlin as part of a scheme to elect Donald Trump and get a more pro-Russian President in the White House.

Manafort said, “Why is it so far-fetched to blame the Russians and said that the motive was to help you?” “I mean, it’s just absurd. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. It’s crazy.”

When reports came out during the Republican Convention that the Trump camp pushed the Republican Party in its platform to ease up on criticism of Russia for invading Ukraine, Manafort pushed back.

Manafort said, “It absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign. That I can guarantee you. And I don’t know who everybody is.”

When asked, “So nobody from the Trump campaign wanted that change in the platform?” Manafort replied, “No one. Zero.”

Amid these latest developments, Manafort’s most recent statement said in part: “I had no role or involvement in the cyberattack on the DNC. I have never spoken with any Russian Government official or anyone who claimed to have been involved. The suggestion that I ever worked to undermine the interests of the United States is false.”

Yet investigators keep scrutinizing this chain of connections from Donald Trump to Paul Manafort to a former Ukrainian President to Moscow and wondering if there is evidence of something truly nefarious here or only what the White House calls it, a witch hunt.