President Donald Trump’s allies in the conservative movement lined up behind him on Tuesday when a jury found his former campaign chair Paul Manafort guilty of federal crimes and his personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight crimes,.
Trump’s supporters argued that while Manafort and Cohen might be crooks, that has nothing to do with Trump, and certainly not whether he colluded with Russians to beat Hillary Clinton.
In a media scrum on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said, “People who do bad things, who break the law, need to be held accountable, but this doesn’t add anything to the allegations of misconduct relative to the Russia investigation.” He added, “How does this implicate the president? I don’t think it implicates him at all, especially on the Russia investigation.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) agreed, telling reporters that Manafort was “a tainted businessman” but that there was no evidence of Russian involvement. Graham also said that “I do believe that if the government knew Manafort was a shady character they should have told the Trump campaign.” (Paul Manafort’s sketchy track record over the past four decades was well known in Washington, and widely reported on in April 2016, when Manafort came on board the Trump campaign.)
In a statement, Graham said that “the American legal system is working its will” but that “there have yet to be charges or convictions for colluding with the Russian government by any member of the Trump campaign.”
Lindsey Graham:— Tim Mak (@timkmak) August 21, 2018
“The American legal system is working its will...
Thus far, there have yet to be any charges or convictions for colluding with the Russian government by any member of the Trump campaign...
It’s important to let this process continue without interference." pic.twitter.com/r03uu0xYDd
It’s worth noting that the Cohen case wasn’t brought to court by Robert Mueller’s special counsel team; he referred the case to the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. But some conservatives seemed to argue that the lack of any reference to the Russia investigation in either case somehow rendered the guilty pleas moot.
Matt Schlapp, chair of the powerful American Conservative Union (his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, serves as Trump’s director of strategic communications), tweeted, “So all this legal activity strange I see no ‘Russian collusion’ in any breaking news.”
So all this legal activity strange I see no "Russian collusion" in any breaking news. Odd.— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) August 21, 2018
And President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani said in a statement, “There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government’s charges against Mr. Cohen.” But in court, Cohen admitted that he made hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and other women “at the direction of” Trump, and with the goal of influencing the 2016 election.
Lanny Davis, attorney for Michael Cohen: "Today he stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election."— Jonathan Landay (@JonathanLanday) August 21, 2018
Still, some on the right took the news as worrisome for President Trump. The Drudge Report headline for the day’s news: “TRUMP HELL HOUR.”
It was, at least, one hell of a day.
Ella Nilsen contributed reporting to this story.