Donald Trump’s presidential campaign endured another day of internal disruption Friday when Paul Manafort, who as campaign chairman had sought to build bridges with the Republican establishment by encouraging a more temperate and consistent message by the GOP nominee, abruptly resigned after a staff shake-up that had reduced his role.
The decision came during a critical week in the campaign, with Trump under pressure from Republican leaders and wealthy contributors to rebalance his candidacy after weeks of missteps that have left him trailing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in national and battleground-state polls. The resignation also followed increased scrutiny of Manafort’s earlier work in Ukraine on behalf of pro-Russian forces, including the country’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych.
Manafort’s departure leaves the campaign more firmly under the guidance of newly installed chief executive Stephen K. Bannon, formerly of Breitbart News, and veteran pollster Kellyanne Conway, who was elevated to campaign manager earlier in the week.
Whether Manafort’s resignation will lead to more staff leaving was not clear Friday, though Trump advisers said Bannon and Conway are considering additional hires. The longtime GOP strategist had recruited a number of former associates to join the campaign after he arrived in the spring.
The resignation was formally announced just as Trump was preparing to tour the devastation from extraordinary flooding in Louisiana. The candidate said in a statement: “This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign. I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process. Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success.”
The news followed a rally Thursday night in North Carolina in which the candidate expressed regret for some of the harsh language he has used during the campaign. Trump’s speech represented a sharp change in tone by a candidate who has resisted any such moves in the past. Trump’s words were applauded by mainstream Republicans, who hope this marked a transition to a campaign focused on attacking Clinton and delivering a consistent message about national security, law and order, and the economy.
Friends of Manafort said Friday they thought he was undone by the combination of revelations about his work on behalf of pro-Russian figures and the elevation of Conway and Bannon to Trump’s new inner circle.
“If you had had one of these things happen, it would have been survivable. But you had two of these things in concert,” said a GOP strategist who knows Manafort and, like others interviewed for this report, requested anonymity to comment on the Trump campaign. “One thing I don’t think Trump will tolerate is the focus being on someone else rather than himself.”
Eventually, Manafort’s background caught up with him. According to two people familiar with Trump’s decision, Trump on Thursday night was given a copy of an Associated Press story about how Manafort’s firm had not properly disclosed its foreign lobbying, shortly before taking the stage in North Carolina. Trump “blew a gasket,” one person said, and told Bannon and others that he should be dismissed.
But Manafort was not fired, the people said. Instead he was told in candid terms Trump’s view and he prepared to resign. These exchanges were first reported by the New York Times.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Robert Costa, Dan Balz and Jose A. DelReal