Republican members of New York’s congressional delegation are taking a wait-and-see approach in responding to how the criminal conviction of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen will affect their support for Trump moving forward.
While some among New York’s nine GOP representatives in Congress have stayed silent on the matter, others reiterated their support of the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose work led to the Cohen and Manafort prosecutions, without mentioning Trump by name or responding directly to questions about how the latest scandals might affect their support for Trump.
“No one is above the law in this country and I have faith in the legal process,” Rep. Elise Stefanik said in an email. “It is important for the Special Counsel's work to continue unimpeded so that the American people can get the apolitical truth.”
“The chips will fall where they may,” Rep. John Faso said in an email. “I look forward to reviewing the results of the investigation upon completion, which I hope comes in the near future.”
Even this rhetorical support for the Mueller investigation and the judicial process contradicts the president’s effort to delegitimize the investigations into his campaign and former associates. That could mean that at least some Republican support for Trump is in jeopardy if more evidence comes forward of illegal wrongdoing.
The president’s critics, including many on the right, such as New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, argue that the president himself is already implicated in Cohen’s crimes. Cohen’s plea included the bombshell assertion that the president personally directed Cohen to make payments before the 2016 election to cover up alleged extra-marital affairs. Those payments were illegal under campaign finance law because they were directed by a candidate for federal office for the primary purpose of aiding his campaign.
Some New York Republicans offered statements that implied everything in the complex investigation had been resolved – and to keep the focus solely on Manafort and Cohen, rather than their former employer in the White House. ”We recognize the seriousness of the crimes of which Mr. Cohen and Mr. Manafort were convicted and they are now being held accountable for their actions,” Rep. Tom Reed said in a statement.
Trump, in a series of tweets on Aug. 23, continued to assert that his former lawyer is a liar and that Manafort was wrongly targeted by federal prosecutors when they charged him with running an illegal scheme to funnel proceeds from his overseas lobbying into the United States.
Rep. Peter King echoed some White House talking points in an interview with Newsday. "’It's unusual for something campaign finance-related to be treated criminally … we need more detail about how the candidate pressured him (Cohen), what his direction was. And also, was Cohen under pressure by the government to take this plea?’”
If Democrats retake the House of Representatives, New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler is expected to become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and has expressed a desire to investigate Trump’s alleged crimes, corruption and collusion with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. In an Aug. 23 statement, Nadler said that since Trump “is now directly implicated in a criminal conspiracy ... the Judiciary Committee has real work to do.”
“House Republicans may be willing to abet President Trump’s worst behavior,” he said in the statement. “But I am not.”
Talk of investigations and impeachment could play into the hands of some GOP candidates who want to make the upcoming election a referendum on impeachment in districts that tilt Republican. This includes Rep. Chris Collins who has linked his own legal troubles – he was indicted earlier this month for alleged insider trading – to a wider effort to remove Trump from office. In a statement announcing the suspension of his reelection campaign, he said Democrats “would like nothing more than to elect an ‘Impeach Trump’ Democrat in this district.”
Collins and other Republican members of the New York congressional delegation did not respond to a request for comment.
Absent impeachment, the convictions of close Trump associates would seem to help Democrats, especially in competitive New York districts. With a little over two months until the November midterms, the conviction of Manafort and guilty plea by Cohen have become another way to link Republican incumbents to Trump, especially when they remain silent on the issue.
"When (Rep.) Dan Donovan was scared for his life that he'd lose to a convicted felon, he declared Robert Mueller's investigation over,” Democratic challenger Max Rose said in an email. “What needs to end is the corruption in Washington and the careers of politicians like Dan who don't have the guts to stop it.” Donovan did not respond to a request for comment.
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