Republicans on Sunday defended President Trump amid mounting legal woes stemming from the special counsel probe led by Robert Mueller III, with some brushing aside new court filings that detail previously unreported contacts between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign and directly implicate the president in plans to buy women’s silence.
In an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, played down the alleged campaign finance violations detailed by prosecutors, arguing that such missteps should not be “over-criminalized.”
“I personally think that if someone makes an error in filing paperwork or not categorizing, it shouldn’t be jail time, it ought to be a fine,” Paul said. He added that if campaign finance violations are aggressively prosecuted, “we’re going to become a banana republic, where every president gets prosecuted and every president gets thrown in jail when they’re done with office.”
The senator also contended that there was nothing illegal about Trump’s efforts to build a hotel in Moscow during the 2016 campaign, so long as he didn’t promise anything in exchange for it.
“This is pretty common, and I see no problem with someone running for president trying to build a hotel somewhere,” Paul said.
Buzzfeed News reported last month that conversations about the project also included discussion of giving a $50 million penthouse to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Friday, federal prosecutors filed new court papers implicating Trump in plans to buy the silence of women who might go public with allegations of affairs with him. The documents also revealed that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, told prosecutors about what appeared to be a previously unknown November 2015 contact with a Russian national who offered the Trump campaign “synergy on a government level.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that “there’s no reason to not stand by anybody in this moment,” drawing a distinction between individuals who have been accused of crimes and pleaded guilty and others, presumably Trump. Rubio emphasized “the right of someone to argue that the evidence is not what you say it is.”
“Just like no one is above the law in this country, no one is beneath it, either. … I believe that Mr. Mueller’s probe should continue and move forward unimpeded,” he said.
Democrats and other Trump critics, meanwhile, argued that Friday’s court filings are a dire sign for the president.
“The key phrase for me is ‘directed’ by President Trump,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, said on “Meet the Press.” He argued that the New York prosecutors’ memo “implicated the president in a felony” but warned that it is still too early to talk about impeachment, which he described as a “last resort.”
“We may get there, but we’re not there now. … If [Trump is] as innocent as he says he is, he ought to want this thing to go to completion,” King said.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, who is poised to take over as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in the new Congress, said that the alleged campaign finance violations “would be impeachable offenses” but that “whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question.”
“An impeachment is an attempt to, in effect, overturn or change the result of the last election. And you should do it only for very serious situations. So, that’s always the question,” Nadler said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-California, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on “Face the Nation” that “there’s a very real prospect” that Trump may be indicted the day he leaves office and that he “may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.”
“We have been discussing the issue of pardons that the president may offer to people or dangle in front of people,” Schiff said. “The bigger pardon question may come down the road as the next president has to determine whether to pardon Donald Trump.”
Washington Post writers Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.