On Friday, federal prosecutors accused President Donald Trump of directing and coordinating illegal payments that his longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, made shortly before the 2016 election to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump. Cohen has already pleaded guilty to felonies related to the payments.
But if you thought this might sway Republican senators to publicly rebuke Trump or even express concern about his alleged involvement in crimes, think again. In the days since last Friday, at least seven of them have already indicated that Trump can count on their continued support.
CNN put together a montage of Susan Collins (R-ME), John Thune (R-SD), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) each reacting to news that prosecutors have implicated Trump in crimes with the equivalent of a verbal shrug.
COLLINS: We have to get all the facts and I’m gonna wait
THUNE: [I’m] just gonna take a step back and wait until we have a more complete picture.
CASSIDY: If you phrase it, “Am I concerned that the president might be involved in a crime?” — of course. The question is then whether or not this so-called “hush money” is a crime.”
HATCH: I don’t care, all I can say is he is doing a good job as president. ... I don’t think he was involved in crimes but even then, you know, you can make anything a crime under the current laws if you want to.
Hatch’s comments are transparently hypocritical, given that during the Bill Clinton impeachment trial in 1999, he said, “This great nation can tolerate a president who makes mistakes. But it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up.”
If extramarital affairs are considered “mistakes,” then that’s exactly what it appears Trump did. Not only that, he later lied about it, and according to federal prosecutors, conspired illegally to cover it up.
It’s not just rank-and-file Republicans who seem disinterested in the president being implicated in crimes. Asked about the latest developments during a news conference on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I don’t have any observations about that.”
Also on Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) repeatedly dodged questions from CNN’s Manu Raju about whether he has concerns regarding Trump being implicated in felonies.
On Wednesday morning, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) downplayed the entire situation, telling CNN, “When I read the filings by Mr. Mueller, I was looking primarily for evidence of illegal Russian collusion. I didn’t see a lot of that.”
Kennedy went on to say that “the American people figured this out early — they knew what they were getting with President Trump.”
But Kennedy has it backward: By using illegal payments to cover up extramarital affairs shortly before the election, Trump deprived Americans of information that would have been important to some voters when they cast their ballots. That’s important, even if Trump didn’t commit crimes himself.