On Tuesday, the President’s former lawyer and fixer said Donald Trump tried to influence the 2016 election with illegal campaign contributions and hush money to keep two women quiet about alleged affairs.
By Wednesday, shocking no one, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill still had very little to say about Michael Cohen’s bombshell allegation and the near-simultaneous conviction of Trump’s former campaign chairman of tax and bank fraud charges.
That Republican leaders should want to avoid badmouthing Trump despite the seriousness of the allegations is both one of the most predictable and most frustrating things about Washington.
Republicans are at the apex of their power right now. Because of Trump’s 2016 win and his coattails, they control every single lever of the federal government – that’s a level of power rarely achieved by one party. And it’s going to be difficult for them to maintain – particularly in the House of Representatives, where anti-Trump backlash is expected to net Democrats numerous seats in midterm elections this November.
What hurts Trump hurts them, in other words. And given their current dominance, they have nowhere to go but down.
Total silence or ‘need more information’
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was completely silent.
A spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan told CNN’s Lauren Fox and Jeremy Herb the top Republican in the House needed more information.
Like what you're reading?
“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,” the spokesperson said.
Plus, Republicans who have been critical of Trump, like Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, have paid a political price. Neither will be in the Senate next year.
Those Republicans who have weighed in haven’t exactly condemned Trump for the allegation he directed Cohen to engineer payoffs to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
“Well I’m not very happy about it,” admitted Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican and Trump supporter who is retiring next year. But in a jawdropping spin, Hatch said the President shouldn’t be blamed for the actions of his staff.
“Naturally it makes you very concerned, but the President should not be held responsible for the actions of the people he’s trusted,” Hatch said, ignoring the fact that Cohen alleged Trump directed him to orchestrate the illegal payments.
Now, Hatch has been in the Senate longer than any other living person, and he knows holding a President responsible for the actions of the people he’s trusted is a major role of Congress. It’s called oversight.
And the party that rules Congress is all too happy to do it when the other party controls the White House.
You can bet Democrats, if they’re lucky enough to win control of the House or Senate, are going to make holding Trump responsible for the actions of people he trusts a main policy objective.
Another Republican, Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, told a scrum of reporters merely that the Cohen and Paul Manafort news was distracting.
“Certainly it’s a distraction,” Kennedy said. “That’s a factual statement. It’s not meant to be a judgment.”
He accurately predicted the White House would begin to attack Cohen or, in Kennedy’s words, “I think Mr. Cohen’s credibility is going to be challenged.”
But he agreed with Hatch’s assessment that there’s no larger lesson to be drawn from two such close former associates of the President either admitting to or being found guilty of federal crimes.
“You know. I’m sorry. I don’t see any deeper meaning in this other than you have to pay your taxes and you can’t lie on a loan application,” Kennedy said.
Indeed! One should not lie on a loan application.
Kennedy said he didn’t understand the campaign finance violations. “I just haven’t looked at it yet and see who else was involved. Is someone in a conspiracy involved?”
The senator must have been under a rock since Tuesday to avoid TVs, newspapers and the Internet, all of which have been plastered with Cohen’s allegation that Trump instructed him to break the law.
The Democrats’ point of view
Democrats, meanwhile, were trying to stretch the Cohen developments as far as possible.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was trying to tie the verdict and plea to Republican lawmakers she hopes to oust in November.
“Congressional Republicans’ determination to cover up for the President and his criminal cronies betrays their oath of office and undermines their duty to the American people,” she said in a statement. House Republicans must abandon their complicity with President Trump and affirm that no one is above the law.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who would like very much to be Senate Majority Leader, said Wednesday that the nomination hearing for Brett Kavanaugh to be Supreme Court justice should be postponed.
“It is unseemly for the President of the United States to be picking a Supreme Court Justice, who could soon be, effectively, a juror in a case involving the president himself,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
What Democrats haven’t done en masse is use the plea and the verdict to call for impeachment, which would require a majority they don’t have in the House. Removing Trump from office would require a massive advantage in the Senate they’re unlikely to see anytime soon.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, wanted to seize the moment to pass legislation protecting Mueller from being fired by Trump, who said this week he could run the investigation if he wanted to even though it’s a probe into his own campaign.
“What Congress needs to do right now is we need to make sure that special prosecutor Mueller is fully protected from being fired by Donald Trump,” Warren said on CNN.
Hatch disagreed, saying he didn’t think Trump would ever fire Mueller because that would be “a pretty stupid move.”