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White House tries to wall off Trump from Manafort’s Russia work

Paul Manafort talks to reporters on the floor

Paul Manafort talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, on July 17, 2016. Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago, according to AP reports. Credit: AP / Matt Rourke

Spicer on Manafort: Who knew?

The more that comes out about Paul Manafort, the less the Trump White House seems to know about him.

On Monday, with the onetime Trump campaign chairman’s coziness with pro-Russian interests a topic of the House Intelligence Committee’s hearing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

Manafort’s history is not one of a bit player. The Associated Press now reports the longtime Washington lobbyist had a $10-million-a-year contract from 2006 to at least 2009 working for a Russian billionaire buddy of Vladimir Putin and pitching plans to “greatly benefit the Putin government.” Stuff like influencing politicians, academics and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to favor Putin.

Spicer’s new line of defense: It wasn’t Donald Trump’s job to know.

“What else don’t we know?” Spicer said Wednesday. “I mean, where he went to school, what grades he got, who he played with in the sandbox?” He added, “To suggest that the president knew who clients were from a decade ago is a bit insane.”

Rack her up

The election was 4-1⁄2 months ago, but Spicer pressed the replay button on campaign-time attacks by tracing Russia connections to Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, campaign chairman John Podesta and his brother, fundraiser Tony Podesta.

The “Clintons had much more extensive ties” to Russia than Manafort, Spicer declared.

However, it’s suspicions of Trump campaign collusion with Russia that are under FBI investigation.

CNN, citing official sources, reported Wednesday night that the FBI has information that indicates Trump associates communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the timing of information releases damaging to Clinton’s campaign.

Wires crossed

House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) still sees nothing to support Trump’s March 4 tweet that Obama — that “bad (or sick) guy” — wiretapped him.

But Nunes said Wednesday he has learned that later communications by Trump’s transition team — maybe Trump’s too, he’s not sure — had been picked up “incidentally” as part of routine, legally authorized surveillance of foreign officials unrelated to the Russia probe, Newsday’s Ngo and Brune report.

Disturbing, according to Nunes, is that their identities were “unmasked” — not hidden, as is usual when U.S. citizens turn up in the intercepts.

Nunes hurried to the White House to relay his findings to the president, who said he felt “somewhat” vindicated. Spicer pronounced it a “startling revelation.”

The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, criticized Nunes for rushing to share investigative information with Trump and not even telling committee members beforehand. That “cast quite a profound cloud over our ability to do our work,” he said.

Lowdown on health showdown

Trump and House Republican still appeared to be coming up short on support as the hours ticked away toward a scheduled vote Thursday on a GOP repeal and replacement of Obamacare, report Newsday’s Tom Brune and Emily Ngo.

Trump met with 18 members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus who oppose the bill. Its chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), said afterward: “Nothing’s changed.”

Spicer said there’s no Plan B. “There’s Plan A and Plan A. We’re going to get this done,” he said.

Trump, asked what he’ll do if the bill doesn’t pass, said, “We’ll see what happens.” The House's Freedom Caucus still dislikes its Obamacare-like mandates

Gorsuch thrown in reverse

Neil Gorsuch may be just weeks away from joining the Supreme Court, but the eight justices there aren’t wowed by his legal logic.

In a unanimous ruling, the court Wednesday boosted the rights of nearly 7 million schoolchildren with disabilities, rejecting a lower standard based on a 2008 opinion by Trump’s nominee.

The high court sided with parents of an autistic teen in Colorado who sought reimbursement for private school costs because their public school didn’t do enough for their son. Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote that it is not enough for school districts to get by with minimal instruction for special-needs children.

Repeat tweets 

So again the president watched TV early. Again he complained on Twitter about media outlets other than Fox. Again he called it the "so-called" Russia story and again he used the phrase "fake news." Again he ended with a non-sentence and an exclamation point: "Such dishonesty!" 

At this late date, are his tweets getting to be non-news? 

Protection at a premium

The U.S. Secret Service requested $60 million in additional funding for the next year, largely because of the extra costs of guarding Trump’s residential properties along with his large family and their extensive travels, The Washington Post reported.

Nearly half of the extra money — $26.8 million — is for protecting Trump’s family and residence in midtown Manhattan’s Trump Tower.

The Office of Management and Budget turned down the request, which means the agency will likely have to find savings elsewhere. Its overall mission includes investigations of cybercrimes, currency counterfeiting, and missing and exploited minors.

What else is happening

  • Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said state income taxes could rise by 10 percent, or funding for hospitals and nursing homes could be slashed, if the Obamacare replacement includes a provision to shift New York’s Medicaid costs from its counties to state government, Newsday’s Yancey Roy reports.
  • Ousted National Security Adviser Mike Flynn never signed the ethics pledge required of Trump appointees that bars them from lobbying ex-colleagues for five years after leaving the administration, The Daily Beast reported. His spokesman said Flynn will still comply voluntarily.
  • Los Angeles police say reports of sexual assault and domestic violence made by the city’s Latino residents have plummeted amid fears of deportation under Trump’s immigration crackdown.
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a rare interview, told the Independent Journal Review, “I didn’t want this job,” but his wife talked him into accepting it. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this” as part of God’s plan, he added.
  • "Mandatory social-media checks" for all visa applicants who have ever been in territories controlled by ISIS are part of new diplomatic-mission procedures ordered by Tillerson, Reuters reports.
  • Trump plans to attend a NATO leaders’ summit scheduled for May in Brussels. the White House has confirmed. It is his first trip abroad as president to be scheduled.
  • When there were reports in November that Trump would seek security clearances for his children, he tweeted: “false.” Now he’s seeking the clearance for daughter Ivanka. Explained Spicer Wednesday: “Well, at the time it was not true.”
  • Trump’s claim that millions of fraudulent votes were cast in November hasn’t been substantiated, but here’s one: Colorado’s former GOP chairman, Steve Curtis, was charged with filling out and mailing in his ex-wife’s ballot for president.

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