For the first time since taking office, President Trump on Tuesday was directly implicated in criminal acts.
Some seized on the news to ramp up calls for impeachment, but many in Congress kept their powder dry. Still others have worked to undermine the investigations linked to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which have led to more than two dozen indictments and six guilty pleas in less than two years.
Asked about the Michael Cohen plea deal Wednesday, Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) expressed concern but would not directly address impeachment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dodged reporters' questions altogether.
And Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said it was “too early to tell” whether Trump should be impeached.
It is a far cry from what Republicans (and Democrats) were saying 20 years ago, when another president faced the prospect of impeachment.
“You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role,” Graham said in 1999. “Impeachment is not about punishment — impeachment is about cleansing the office.”
In 1998, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) accused President Bill Clinton of “demonizing” independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and “anybody who gets in [his] way.” In December 2017, Chabot called Mueller’s team of investigators a “group of Democrat partisans.”
On the other side, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) called the proceedings against Clinton a “Republican coup d’état.” Now she is one of the most vocal advocates for impeaching Trump.
“I hope he’s not there for four years,” Waters said in February 2017, about two weeks after Trump’s inauguration. “My greatest desire is to lead him right into impeachment.”
Republicans have reportedly circulated talking points to downplay the Cohen plea agreement, at least until Mueller’s Russia investigation — which they have refused to protect from Trump — is complete.