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White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

Amid FBI investigation, White House tries to distance Trump from campaign aides

The White House is distancing itself from two former senior members of Donald Trump’s team, amid an FBI investigation into possible connections between Trump “associates” and Russia.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday referred to Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as a “volunteer of the campaign.” And he said Paul Manafort, who ran Trump’s campaign for months, “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”

“And so to start to look at some individual that was there for a short period of time or, separately, individuals who really didn’t play any role in the campaign and to suggest that those are the basis for anything is a bit ridiculous,” he said.

WATCH: House Intelligence Committee hearings on Russia and the 2016 election

Spicer wrongly claimed that Manafort was brought onto Trump’s campaign “sometime in June and by the middle of August he was no longer with the campaign.” In fact, Manafort was hired in late March as Trump’s convention manager, and was promoted to campaign chairman in May. He resigned from the campaign’s top post in mid-August, amid an onslaught of negative press having to do with his past work for foreign governments, including pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is defending himself against suggestions he played a role in Russia’s efforts to interfere with the U.S. presidential campaign.

Manafort says in a statement that he had “no role or involvement” in the cyber hack of the Democratic National Committee and disclosure of stolen emails. He says he’s never spoken to any Russian officials or others who claimed to be involved in the attack.

Manafort says there is “constant scrutiny and innuendo” but “no facts” backing up allegations. He says he’s disappointed anyone would legitimize attempts to discredit him and President Donald Trump’s election.

READ MORE: Key members of Trump’s circle under scrutiny for Russia ties

Manafort resigned from Trump’s campaign amid revelations his firm had lobbied for a pro-Russian party in Ukraine. His name came up repeatedly during a House intelligence committee hearing Monday.

Flynn, meanwhile, was one of the president’s closest advisers throughout the campaign and the transition, frequently traveling on his plane. He was named national security adviser, but resigned from the White House last month after he was found to have misled senior members of the administration about his contacts with Russia’s top diplomat to the U.S.

During a congressional hearing Monday examining Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible connections between Moscow and Trump’s aides, FBI Director James Comey was asked about various campaign advisers and staffers, including Carter Page, whom Trump once named as one of his foreign policy advisers.

In a letter to the Senate intelligence committee, Page, who has emerged as a key figure in the controversy surrounding Trump associates’ connections to Russia, cast himself as a regular presence in Trump Tower, where the campaign was headquartered.

“I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Café, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year,” Page wrote. It is unclear whether that is true. After the campaign, Trump’s lawyers sent Page at least two cease and desist letters.

In a reversal, former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page now says he did have contact with Russia

Spicer described Carter and other individuals mentioned during the hearing as “hangers-oner on the campaign.”

“Those people, the greatest amount of interaction that they had with the campaign was the campaign apparently sending them a series of cease and desists,” he said.

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