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Republicans try to distance Trump from Cohen plea, Manafort verdict

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Donald Trump
Donald Trump.
Spencer
Platt/Getty Images


  • Some Republicans offered up a similar defense for
    President Donald Trump following a day when two of his top
    allies either pleaded guilty to federal crimes or were
    convicted of them.
  • Both of those instances had nothing to do with Russian
    collusion, Republicans said.
  • Others were slightly more critical.

Many Republicans came to the defense of President Donald Trump
following a day when his former campaign manager Paul Manafort
was convicted of eight felony charges and his former longtime
lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to the same number of felony
charges.

The convictions, they said, had nothing to do with Russian
collusion.

Manafort was found guilty on charges that came out of the special
counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference
in the 2016 presidential election, though they did not directly
relate to his time on the Trump campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty to
charges that included committing campaign-finance violations at
Trump’s “direction” to benefit his candidacy.

But some on Capitol Hill tried to give the president
some breathing room away from the courtroom drama in Virginia and
New York.

“If Manafort and Cohen did things that (they) shouldn’t have
done, which it sounds like they did, I think they ought to be
held responsible for it but I don’t see any of this having
anything to do with the president and Russia,” Republican Sen.
John Cornyn of Texas told reporters. 

Referencing Cohen’s admissions, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham,
who has been critical of Trump but is also a golf partner of the
president, told reporters Tuesday that he
didn’t “know what will come” from campaign finance violations.


Michael Cohen
Michael Cohen.
AP Photo/Mary
Altaffer


“But the thing that will hurt the president the most is if, in
fact, his campaign did coordinate with a foreign government like
Russia, anything short of that is probably going to fall into
partisan camp,” he said.

He also said in a statement that “there have yet to be any
charges or convictions for colluding with the Russian government
by any member of the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.”

Included in Republican Party talking points on Cohen that
circulated Wednesday morning,
meanwhile, was that “this has nothing to do with collusion with
Russia.”

Conservatives in the media
echoed that point, with Fox News host Sean Hannity saying the
Cohen plea deal “has nothing to do with Russia.” Matt Schlapp,
the president of the American Conservative Union, brushed aside
the cases too, tweeting, “So all this legal activity strange I
see no ‘Russian collusion’ in any breaking news.”

“Odd,” he added.

Other Republicans weren’t as dismissive of Tuesday’s legal
progressions. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a Trump ally,
told reporters Wednesday morning that the charges were “serious,”
though he steered clear of placing any blame on the president.

“Well I’m not very happy about it,” he said of the hush money
payments. “It should never have happened to begin with.”

But the “president should not be held responsible for the actions
of the people he’s trusted,” he added.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who has been critical of
Trump, was more heavy-handed in his response to the news.

“Paul Manafort is a founding member of the DC swamp and Michael
Cohen is the Gotham version of the same,” Sasse said. “Neither
one of these felons should have been anywhere near the
presidency.”

And Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of
the Senate Intelligence Committee joined Democratic Sen. Mark
Warner of Virginia, the committee’s ranking member, in issuing a
joint statement Tuesday afternoon that they “reengaged” Cohen and
were hopeful he could speak before their committee again.

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