Republicans Fret About Campaign Fallout From Trump’s Mounting Legal Woes

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: (L to R) Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) hold a news conference following their ... WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: (L to R) Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) hold a news conference following their weekly policy luncheon, September 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. Leader McConnell announced they will not vote on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill, the GOP's latest attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) MORE LESS

Michael Cohen’s implication that President Trump directed him to violate campaign finance laws continued to reverberate in Washington and around the country on Wednesday, with top Republicans admitting that the ongoing investigations could further damage their party’s shaky midterm election prospects.

“It doesn’t make things any easier, that’s for sure,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

Others admitted that the news would prove another unwelcome distraction, at best, this November.

“I don’t think it helps any,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said. “It’s just one more narrative of people around the president doing bad things.”

“It will be one more problem we face in the midterms — it’s just another thing to talk about other than the economy and how well things are going,” Graham continued. “It’s just drama away from the agenda that most of us signed up for.”

It’s unclear how damaging Cohen’s under-oath admission to illegally paying off two alleged mistresses of President Trump’s, at the president’s request, will end up being in the near term — or in the midterms. But Republicans admit that it’s yet another distraction from what they want to talk about on the campaign trail.

“There’ll be a tremendous amount of press coverage on this situation, for obvious reasons, and there’s not as much coverage on the tax plan or the implications of it or our economy,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said. “It will be one of the topics that voters will focus on, I would imagine, among many others.”

Still, Democrats could risk overplaying their hand. Democrats are facing a brutal Senate map this fall, with ten incumbents running in states Trump won, five of them in deeply conservative territory — states where Trump’s popularity has proven resilient.

Those Democrats, many of whom are focused on avoiding the president’s ire, were loathe to talk about the big news.

“I think that there’s a respected professional prosecutor running an important investigation and everybody should leave him alone and let him finish his work,” Claire McCaskill (D-MO) told TPM when asked about her reaction to the Cohen news and other Democrats’ calls for the GOP to delay confirmation hearings on Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

“That’s all I’ve got to say about it,” she said emphatically, six times, when asked follow-up questions.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) ducked even harder.

“I’ve got no comment on that,” he said when asked about other Democrats’ Supreme Court calls.

“If you could just give my office a call, thanks,” he said when asked about his reaction to Cohen.

“My position is that we should continue to allow the Mueller investigation to get the facts,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told reporters when asked if there was a political downside to talking about impeachment. “I do think that after yesterday the president needs to testify under oath.”

But not every Senate race is in a deep-red state — and there are plenty of House Republicans in Trump-averse districts who must be wincing at the latest news.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was with Trump at his Tuesday night rally in West Virginia immediately after the Cohen guilty pleas and Manafort guilty verdicts came in. He told TPM “no” when asked if he was aware of the news when he boarded Air Force One late Tuesday afternoon — and didn’t respond to a follow-up question about whether he still would have gone on the trip if he had known. Gardner will face his own reelection in a state Trump lost in 2020.

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