Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to eight counts of campaign finance violations and tax and bank fraud, admitting he broke the law at the direction of Trump himself.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was found guilty of tax and bank fraud.
And Republicans in Congress aren’t batting an eye.
Why? It’s not Russia-related, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters.
“Campaign finance violations, I don’t know what will come from that, 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 camps,” Graham told an NBC reporter Tuesday, after news of Cohen’s plea deal broke.
GRAHAM: "Campaign finance violations, I don't know what will come from that, but the thing that will hurt the President the most is if, in fact, his campaign did coordinate with a foreign govt like Russia, anything short of that is probably going to fall into partisan camps"— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) August 21, 2018
In other words, Graham, who is known for being both an occasional Trump critic and one of his golf buddies, is saying this might be a scandal, but it’s not the scandal.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) tried a similar deflection, saying the news of Manafort’s guilty verdict and Cohen’s guilty plea doesn’t have any ties to the investigation into possible collusion with Russia, even though both cases stemmed from that investigation. (Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team pursued the case against Manafort and referred the Cohen investigation to the Southern District of New York.)
Graham’s reaction to the news is a frank read of congressional Republicans’ mode of operation with Trump: No matter what Trump says or does, or what develops around him, Republicans in Congress find a way to absolve him of wrongdoing.
We’ve seen this time and again. Republicans have bent over backward to defend the president, even in his most indefensible moments. They’ve found ways to excuse Trump’s praise for dictators and his racist dog whistles. And no matter how much Trump escalates his rhetoric around the Russia investigation, threatening to fire Mueller, congressional Republicans say it’s still not enough to warrant action.
The red line — if it exists — is a moving target. And with each scandal, it moves farther into the distance, becoming even more difficult for Trump to cross. Cohen said in his guilty plea that he broke federal law at the direction of the candidate he was working for (Trump). It’s true that crime would be small potatoes compared to proof that Trump personally colluded with Russian agents to win the presidency. But it’s still a federal crime — and Trump’s allies in Congress don’t seem bothered.