No crime but a witch hunt: Pro-Trump media’s off-the-wall reactions to Manafort's conviction and Cohen's guilty plea

After former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen were found guilty and pleaded guilty, respectively, each on eight criminal counts, right-wing media immediately rose to President Donald Trump’s defense. Multiple media figures claimed that none of the charges had anything to do with Trump and that Trump’s former associates pleaded guilty to crimes that “don’t exist.”

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

None of this is illegal, at least for Trump

  • CNN Trump shill Steve Cortes claimed Cohen pleaded “guilty to non-crimes” and called the notion that Cohen violated campaign finance laws “fake news.” 
  • Wall Street Journal reporter James Freeman called Cohen’s illegal payments to two women during the 2016 election cycle to stop them from going public about their affairs with Trump a mere “accounting issue over a legal settlement.” 
  • Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett on Cohen implicating Trump: “The fact that a prosecutor in New York says this was a crime, and under pressure Michael Cohen agrees to that, doesn’t make it so. It hasn’t been litigated.”
  • Republican National Committee member Harmeet Dhillon: “I suspect that throughout his career, Donald Trump has been approached by women like this who have shaken him down” and Cohen’s illegal campaign contribution is “a standard way that people are paid off.”  
  • Fox host Mark Levin on Hannity: Cohen pleaded guilty “to two counts of criminality that don't exist.”
  • Levin: “So what” if Cohen attempted to illegally influence the election, “there are certain things you do that influence an election that are legal and certain things you do to influence an election that are illegal.”
  • Fox host Sean Hannity: Mueller was simply “stacking charges he couldn't prove to scare Manafort” and “was never really ready for an actual trial.”
  • Former U.S. attorney Joe diGenova: “Payments made with the knowledge of the candidate are not necessarily illegal per se.” 
  • Law professor Alan Dershowitz compared Cohen’s illegal campaign contribution to jaywalking.
  • Fox Business host Lou Dobbs: “I’ve seen some of the left-wing networks spewing away that this is a direct implication of the president [but] I thought that there was no such charge available for the president.”
  • Levin: “You know what took place at the Southern District of New York [with regard to the Cohen plea]? Nothing that matters. ... There was no violation of federal campaign laws.” 
  • Attorney David Wohl on Fox’s The Story: Cohen’s “being indicted for campaign issues that Trump had nothing to do with is secondary completely” to the murder of an Iowa woman, Mollie Tibbetts. 

The cases only prove that the Mueller probe is a witch hunt

  • Fox’s John Roberts falsely reported that the Cohen and Manafort cases showed that Mueller had gone “far afield of what the initial mandate” of the Mueller investigation.
  • Jarrett on Hannity’s radio show: Manafort trial “underscores how overzealous and unprincipled and unscrupulous that Mueller's team is.”
  • Dhillon on The Ingraham Angle: Cohen’s testimony only “underscores the president's position that this is a witch hunt and is not legitimate and needs to end.”
  • Hannity: Cohen’s prosecution is “an attempt at a political takedown of the man that the deep state never wanted to be the president” and shows that “the sovereignty of your vote is now in question.”
  • The Hoover Institute’s John Jordan on Lou Dobbs Tonight: “This is nothing more and nothing less than a silent coup by those in the Justice Department.”
  • Hannity on Michael Cohen: If you “knew or were close to Donald Trump in some way, they're going to put the screws to you.”
  • Dobbs: “Today was pure raw political power unleashed in the judiciary, without question.”
  • The Daily Caller’s Chris Bedford on Lou Dobbs Tonight: “All we see them doing right now is squeezing cronies who have been on the outskirts of President Trump’s orbit.” Dobbs also said that the investigation is a “politically motivated witch hunt in which [U.S. intelligence agencies] are fully participating, if not orchestrating.”
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: “This had nothing to do with Russia,” and “it also doesn’t really show that there is a single-handed form of justice being applied to Democrats like Hillary Clinton.”

Cohen was coerced into implicating Trump 

  • Hannity: Cohen “changed his story” on whether Trump knew about the payment because he was “probably forced by prosecutors.” 
  • Jarrett on Hannity: The prosecution “pressured [Cohen] for that one line” implicating Trump, because “they didn’t care about anything else but that one line.” 
  • Hannity: Cohen implicating Trump was “the special sauce that the prosecution wanted.” 
  • Bedford on Lou Dobbs Tonight: Cohen “probably wouldn't have said what he said today about blaming the president if it weren't for politics.”
  • Jarrett: “Robert Mueller is essentially engaged in a conspiracy with the Southern District of New York prosecutors to abuse their position of power and office as prosecutors, to force somebody to plead guilty to a non-crime, to implicate the president.”

Other flimsy speculation and lies

  • Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones: “I think the crime is that [Trump’s] heterosexual.”
  • Fox contributor Sara Carter: The “actual collusion” was “between the DOJ and the FBI.”
  • Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt suggested that Cohen’s comments about Trump should not be believed because he’s “pleading guilty to eight -- eight -- really bad crimes.”
  • Fox & Friends speculated that Trump might pardon Cohen. 
  • Earhardt on Hannity: Trump “mentioned pardoning Manafort … and said that he would consider that.” Trump didn’t actually say it
  • Jarrett said that Manafort, who led Trump’s campaign during the Republican convention and “handpicked” the vice president, was only “briefly involved in the campaign,” and he falsely claimed that Manafort “didn’t know Trump before” the campaign. 
  • Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that Cohen’s guilty plea is actually good news for Trump.