This article titled “Senior Republicans hesitate to criticise Trump after Manafort and Cohen verdicts” was written by Ben Jacobs in Washington, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 22nd August 2018 08.56 Asia/Kolkata
Republican elected officials have hesitated to criticise Donald Trump after his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to fraud, implicating the president, and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted on eight counts of financial crimes.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Speaker Paul Ryan said: “We are aware of Mr Cohen’s guilty plea to these serious charges. We will need more information than is currently available at this point.”
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an erstwhile Trump critic turned golf partner, emphasized that both cases had nothing to do with Russia. “The American legal system is working its will in both the Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen cases,” Graham said in a statement.
“Thus far, 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. It’s important to let this process continue without interference. I hope Mr Mueller can conclude his investigation sooner rather than later for the benefit of the nation.”
John Cornyn, the number two ranking Republican in the Senate echoed Graham’s comments on Tuesday. According to CNN, he told reporters: “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.”
However, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who has long been one of the few Republicans willing to consistently break with Trump on policy grounds, offered direct criticism of Cohen and Manafort. “Paul Manafort is a founding member of the DC swamp and Michael Cohen is the Gotham version of the same,” said Sasse. “Neither one of these felons should have been anywhere near the presidency.”
The reaction from conservative media and commentators was little different than that on Capitol Hill.
Sean Hannity, a Fox News host and confidante of Trump, dismissed the news on Tuesday, saying “it has nothing to do with Russia”. He went on to rhetorically ask special counsel Robert Mueller: “This is it? Did we need you 500 days for this?”
Matt Schlapp, the president of the American Conservative Union and Trump ally, also waved aside the cases in a tweet Tuesday afternoon: “So all this legal activity strange I see no ‘Russian collusion’ in any breaking news. Odd.”
Many conservatives instead focused on the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, an Iowa college student who had been missing for a month, and the arrest of an undocumented immigrant. Trump ally Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama tweeted: “Mollie Tibbetts – another American who would be alive but for illegal aliens and insistence by Democrats for open borders and amnesty. #BuildTheWall.” The story was on the front page of conservative websites such as Fox News and Breitbart on Tuesday night.
Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times who has embraced the label “never Trump”, did tweet: “I’ve been skeptical about the wisdom and merit of impeachment. Cohen’s guilty plea changes that. The president is clearly guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. He should resign his office or be impeached and removed from office.”
Former top Trump aide Steve Bannon told the Guardian the rulings would have implications for the mid-term elections. “Tonight brings November into complete focus,” he said. “It will be an up or down vote on the impeachment of the president. The Democrats have long wanted this fight and now they have it.”
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