Republicans are using a similar line of defence to distance Trump from the convictions of 2 of his closest associates

Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesDonald Trump.
  • Some Republicans offered up a similar defence 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 defence 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.

“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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