Republicans push talking points brushing off legal perils of former top Trump associates

Nothing to see here.

That’s the message the Republican National Committee sent to surrogates Wednesday in a series of talking points to deal with the aftershocks of the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and guilty plea from Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, on tax and campaign finance violations.

The notes, which were obtained by ABC News and are regularly sent out to Trump surrogates and defenders who do battle on the president’s behalf on cable news, closely mirror Trump’s reaction to Tuesday’s legal developments that could pose a growing threat to his presidency.

“This has nothing to do with Russian collusion,” Trump told reporters in West Virginia Tuesday night, a point repeated several times on the surrogate talking points.

While collusion has become the buzzword for the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — in part because it’s a term Trump and his team frequently use — the word can create confusion because collusion is not actually listed as a crime.

“Collusion, in and of itself, there’s no crime of collusion,” Trump’s attorney, Jay Sekulow, told “Good Morning America.”

The bulletin also emphasized the White House’s cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, pointing out that the White House and witnesses have “turned over more than one million of(sic) pages of documents.”

Cohen pleaded guilty on Tuesday to eight felony counts in a Manhattan federal court, including two counts of campaign finance violations spawned from hush money agreements with two women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who claim to have had affairs with Trump, which he has denied. Cohen said in court, under oath, that he made those payments “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”

The “candidate” Cohen referred to was not named in court or in the criminal information charging document but one of Cohen’s lawyers, Lanny Davis, later said that Cohen had “testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime.”

The GOP talking points raised questions about Cohen’s credibility – a point made by some Senate Republicans on Wednesday.

“I don’t know the facts. All I know is Michael Cohen has been on both sides of these issues and his credibility I think will be a major issue,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., told reporters.

While Cornyn and some other Republicans said they don’t know enough about the case to comment on the guilty plea from Cohen and its implications for the president, some admitted concern.

“Well these are serious changes and they can’t be ignored,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Asked about the president keeping such company, Hatch said, “Naturally it makes you very concerned, the President shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of people he’s trusted.”

“Obviously it’s serious, any time somebody alleges that the president directed him to do something, it’s serious,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, a Trump critic, told reporters. “We’ll see where it goes from here.”

The talking points also encouraged Trump surrogates to raise questions about the special counsel probe and call for the end of the Mueller investigation.

But not everyone is on message.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, heads to a closed-door briefing to update lawmakers on cyber attacks on the U.S. election system, at the Capitol in Washington, Aug. 22, 2018.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, a presidential confidant, said he wants to see the results of the investigation, even though he has not seen evidence of collusion so far.

“The thing that I am looking for is whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government. If they did that would be incredibly serious and I’ve seen no evidence of that,” Graham said. “But the key to this is letting Mr. Mueller do his job and see what he finds.”