WASHINGTON • The White House has sought again to distance itself from President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Mr Paul Manafort, who is under increasing scrutiny over his connections to Russian business interests.
But even as Trump officials downplayed Mr Manafort's role, his decade-long business associate Rick Gates remains entrenched in the President's operation. Mr Gates is one of four people leading a Trump-blessed group that defends the President's agenda.
Through Mr Manafort, Mr Gates is tied to many of the same business titans from Ukraine and Russia, including Mr Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with strong ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press reported that Mr Manafort had a multimillion-dollar contract with Mr Deripaska between 2005 and 2009 that was aimed at helping the political interests of Mr Putin.
Mr Manafort has acknowledged the contract with Mr Deripaska, but denied that it had anything to do with the Russian government.
Mr Gates acknowledged a role in at least two recent controversial deals involving separate Putin-connected oligarchs, including one other with Mr Deripaska. Both led to lawsuits, in which Mr Gates was listed as a partner to Mr Manafort, though Mr Gates said he holds no equity interest in the firm.
Potential links between Mr Trump's associates and the Russian government have gained renewed interest this week after FBI director James Comey publicly confirmed on Monday that his agency was actively probing collusion between the two sides. Mr Manafort and Mr Gates said they had not been contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.