President Trump's praise for his campaign chairman Paul Manafort turned to distancing statements as the special counsel investigation focused on the longtime political strategist and lobbyist. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

President Trump sought Monday to distance himself from the federal money-laundering charges against two of his top campaign aides, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, by saying their alleged conspiracy occurred “years ago” and asserting that “there is NO COLLUSION!”

The first White House comment about Monday's 12-count indictment came in a pair of tweets from the president, who continued his days-long drum beat to ratchet up pressure on his former foe, Hillary Clinton, and the Democrats.

Trump tweeted, “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”

In a second tweet, sent three minutes later, Trump wrote, " . . . Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”

While the charges did not reference Manafort and Gates's work on the Trump campaign, separate court documents unsealed Monday detailed connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Those documents show that George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to Trump's campaign, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI about his contacts with a foreign professor connected to Russian officials.

Manafort, who served as Trump's campaign chairman for several months in mid-2016, and Gates, who was Manafort's top deputy on the campaign, were longtime business partners and were charged Monday with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other counts stemming from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation into Russia's influence in the 2016 election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.


Paul Manafort served as Donald Trump's campaign chairman for several months in mid-2016. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The charges against Manafort and Gates focused on their years of lucrative work advising foreign governments and political parties, including a party in Ukraine closely aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Over the weekend, as Washington braced for the first batch of indictments from Mueller's investigation, Trump sought to shift attention from his campaign and associates to his former opponent, Clinton. In Twitter outbursts, amplified by Trump allies, the president said the Mueller probe was unfair and demanded that investigations be launched into various Clinton controversies.

“There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!” Trump wrote in one tweet.

Later in the morning, Trump added: “All of this ‘Russia’ talk right when the Republicans are making their big push for historic Tax Cuts & Reform. Is this coincidental? NOT!”