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Most GOP Senators Stayed Quiet About The Mueller Indictments

The information that came to light on Monday — the indictment of President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and campaign official Rick Gates, and the guilty plea entered by former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos — was a significant step in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the possibility that Russia colluded with President Trump’s campaign. But you wouldn’t know it from the reactions of Republican senators. We looked at senators’ official statements, interviews and social media posts, and we were able to find comments from just 15 of the 52 GOP senators.1

When Republican senators did weigh in, it was to assert that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation must be allowed to be completed. For example, in an interview with Fox News, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — who has co-authored legislation aimed at making it harder for Trump to fire Mueller — said there would be “holy hell to pay” if Trump tried to fire Mueller without cause, but “no politician should be afraid of the American legal system working its will.”

Every comment we found save one — from Sen. Marco Rubio — amounted to “let the investigation finish.” Rubio emphasized to TMZ that charges against Manafort involved conduct that took place before the campaign. That response was the most Trump-friendly we could find.

Republican senators who reacted to the charges against Manafort, Gates and Papadopoulos

As of 3:45 p.m. on Oct. 31

NAME STATE SOURCE
Marco Rubio Florida Interview
Mike Crapo Idaho Statement
Joni Ernst Iowa Statement
Chuck Grassley Iowa Interview, statement
Susan Collins Maine Interview
Ben Sasse Nebraska Tweet
Richard Burr North Carolina Statement
Thom Tillis North Carolina Phone statement
Rob Portman Ohio Interview
Lindsey Graham South Carolina Interview
Tim Scott South Carolina Statement
John Cornyn Texas Interview
Ted Cruz Texas Interview
Orrin Hatch Utah Tweet
Mike Lee Utah Statement

Including statements issued by senators’ spokespeople or offices

None of the senators echoed the Trump administration’s argument that Papadopoulos was a low-level campaign staffer or that the investigation should focus on Hillary Clinton.

A number of Democratic senators voiced support for Mueller’s continued investigation and mentioned how serious the allegations were. But the GOP response is the important one here — the extent to which Republicans in Congress, particularly the Senate, stand with Trump could have a big effect on the policy agenda and the president’s political future. You could read their muted response to Monday’s news as good for Trump; Republicans weren’t attacking the president, after all. But they weren’t exactly supporting him either. No Republican senators disparaged Mueller’s investigation, for example, even though administration allies have been pushing that line of attack.

In other words, these are Republican elected officials and a Republican president — anything short of clear support is likely a problem for the White House.

Rachael Dottle contributed research.

Footnotes

  1. As of Tuesday afternoon. Two caveats: First, it’s possible we missed comments from some senators. Second, in some cases, senators’ responses didn’t fit neatly into our categories. We sorted responses into five broad categories — including calling for Trump’s impeachment, calling the indictments serious, and attacking special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — but Republicans’ comments fell into only two categories: supporting the White House or supporting the continuation of Mueller’s probe. We used our best judgment when categorizing responses.

Kathryn Casteel writes about economics and policy issues for FiveThirtyEight.

Gus Wezerek is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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