Politics

These Senate Dems sound a lot like Republicans on Manafort, Cohen

Sen. Claire McCaskill does not want to talk about Paul Manafort’s guilty verdict and Michael Cohen’s guilty plea. She doesn’t want to discuss what it means for President Donald Trump.

Neither do most vulnerable Democrats.

“There’s a respected federal prosecutor running an important investigation and everybody should leave him alone and let him finish his work,” McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, told reporters Wednesday regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller. “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

She repeated “That’s all I’ve got to say about it” five more times before ending an interview with McClatchy.

McCaskill, who’s one of the nation’s most vulnerable senators in November’s election, sounded a lot like a Republican Wednesday, and GOP lawmakers didn’t want to say much about Trump’s troubles.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, didn’t once in his opening Senate remarks Wednesday mention the guilty verdict for Trump’s former campaign manager or the guilty plea of Trump’s former lawyer to campaign fraud.

Michael Cohen, who had been Trump’s personal attorney, said that during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had directed him to pay two women not to speak about their affairs with then-candidate Trump.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who battled Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, referred questions to his press office when asked for his reaction. The office did not respond to a request for comment.

Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami told reporters on Tuesday after Cohen's guilty plea that he submitted invoices to Trump's company to obtain reimbursement for the unlawful campaign contributions.

Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, and Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, each gave vague answers about what the legal developments meant for Trump. Graham emphasized waiting for the results of the special counsel’s report.

“The heart and soul of why Mueller exists is whether or not there was collusion (with Russia),” Graham said. “I’m not saying (the latest developments are) not serious. I just don’t believe we’re gonna know enough until Mueller issues his report.”

In sharp contrast, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, rallied Democrats to talk about why the guilty verdict and plea should delay the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Schumer said in his meeting with Kavanaugh Tuesday he asked if a president could be subpoenaed. Schumer wasn’t satisfied with Kavanaugh’s answer, which Schumer said was noncommittal.

“The sequence of those two events, Kavanaugh’s refusal to say that a president must comply with a duly-issued subpoena and Michael Cohen’s implication of the president in a federal crime, makes the danger of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court abundantly clear,” Schumer said Wednesday.

Other Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, both of whom are seen as safe in bids to defend their seats, echoed Schumer’s calls.

McCaskill, on the other hand, is in a tight race with Republican opponent Josh Hawley in polls. Other vulnerable Democrats were also sounding much like with their Republican counterparts in their responses Wednesday.

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Of the Democratic senators regarded as having tight races, only Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, tweeted about the legal scandals, calling them, “Corruption in plain sight.” But she did not say what steps she thought Congress should take in reaction to the guilty verdict and plea.

The other 10 said nothing about the issue. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, tweeted last about red tide, a poisonous ocean algae killing huge amounts of marine life throughout the state currently, and protecting service members from predatory lending. His office did not return a request for comment on the Manafort and Cohen issues.

Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, last tweeted about protecting health care coverage for pre-existing conditions. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, last tweeted about wildfires in the West, though he did reiterate his pledge to still sit down with Kavanaugh. All three, as well as McCaskill, represent states Trump won in 2016.

“The (Kavanuagh) documents are a much bigger issue to me than any of the decisions made yesterday,” Tester said, when asked about the significance of Cohen and Manafort on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Kate Irby: 202-383-6071; @KateIrby
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