Senior Republicans slow to criticise Trump after Manafort/Cohen verdicts

House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan responded: ‘We will need more information’

Brett Kavanaugh has refused to answer whether Donald Trump can be forced to comply with a subpoena. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Brett Kavanaugh has refused to answer whether Donald Trump can be forced to comply with a subpoena. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

 

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.

A spokesperson for House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan issued an abrupt statement, saying: “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, emphasised 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,” Mr 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,” he continued, referring to the Russia investigation being carried out in Washington by special counsel Robert Mueller, into interference in the 2016 presidential election and allegations of collusion with Moscow by the Trump campaign.

Serious charges

On Wednesday morning, Utah Republican senator Orrin Hatch said on Capitol Hill of the Cohen case: “Those are some serious charges and they can’t be ignored,” he said. “I’m not very happy about it, I’ll put it that way and should have never happened to begin with.”

However, senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who has long been one of the few Republicans willing to consistently break with Mr Trump on policy grounds, offered direct criticism . “Paul Manafort is a founding member of the DC swamp and Michael Cohen is the Gotham version of the same,” said Mr Sasse, referencing Gotham as a popular nickname for New York City.

“Neither one of these felons should have been anywhere near the presidency.”

Senior Democrats also weighed in. Elizabeth Warren, the high-profile Massachusetts senator, who is seen as eyeing her party’s nomination for the White House in 2020 and is attempting to build support for a new anti-corruption Bill, tweeted: “The Trump era has given our country its most nakedly corrupt leadership of our lifetimes. But they didn’t cause the rot – they’re just the biggest, stinkiest example of it. Join the fight for my new bill.”

The Democrats’ leader in the senate, Chuck Schumer, called for Republicans to delay the confirmation hearings of Mr Trump’s US supreme court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, in the wake of Tuesday’s double court drama, calling the developments “a game changer”.

Mr Schumer argues that Mr Kavanaugh has refused to answer whether Mr Trump can be forced to comply with a subpoena. He said that refusal, combined with Mr Cohen implicating Mr Trump in a federal crime, makes the danger of Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination “abundantly clear”.

Reaction

The conservative judge’s Senate confirmation hearing is due to begin on September 4th. But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s reaction was surprisingly measured as she steered the party away from focusing on a mission to impeach Mr Trump quickly.

Impeaching Mr Trump is “not a priority” for Democrats and, despite the implications of the Manafort and Cohen cases, “impeachment has to spring from something else”, she told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Ms Pelosi added that if Democrats win control of the House in the November midterm elections, they should concentrate on ensuring the Mueller investigation can finish its work.

In contrast, 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.” – Guardian