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Sens. Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn and Mike Lee. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In the days after prosecutors revealed that Michael Cohen paid off two women "in coordination with and at the direction of" then-candidate Donald Trump, top Democrats have said the president's alleged actions during the 2016 campaign could leave him open to impeachment — or possibly even indictment when he leaves office.

The other side: Top congressional Republicans, meanwhile, have largely dismissed Trump's place in the allegations, arguing that Cohen is not credible, that the investigation is tainted by Democratic bias, and that campaign finance violations are a minor offense. Or, as Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) argued, Cohen's plea is "a long way from collusion with a foreign agent to influence the election in 2016."

  • Reality check: Special counsel Robert Mueller is still investigating the Trump campaign's links to Russia, a probe in which Cohen has also pleaded guilty for lying to Congress. The Cohen investigation in the Southern District of New York is distinct from the Russia investigation.

What they're saying:

  • Kennedy: "Jesus loves [Michael Cohen], but everybody else thinks he's an idiot. He's obviously a sleaze-oid grifter. And if I were a prosecutor, I wouldn't base a prosecution on evidence given to me by Mr. Cohen. ... Campaign Finance Act violations are, generally, civil matters."
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): "I don’t think he was involved in crimes. But even then, you know, you can make anything a crime under the current laws if you want to. You can blow it way out of proportion. ... The Democrats will do anything to hurt this president." When CNN's Manu Raju informed Hatch that it was federal prosecutors who had implicated Trump in a crime, not Democrats, Hatch replied: "OK, but I don’t care. All I can say is he’s doing a good job as president."
  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.): "I think what [the Cohen guilty plea] shows is that if the president hires an attorney to solve a problem, he expects them to do it in legal manner. ... If an impeachable offense is a campaign finance problem, there's a lot of members of Congress who would have to leave. ... We’ve investigated this for a long period of time. Both sides have come up with nothing in the process. I think we should put the American people first."
  • Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): "As long as Cohen's a liar, I shouldn't give much credibility to what he says."
  • Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.): "I think at this point we have an incomplete picture, and I think at this point the president ... has denied some of these allegations that have been made. Michael Cohen obviously has plenty of incentive now to cooperate and the representations that he makes, I think you have to, you know — there are going to be some questions raised about those as well. So I guess my view is that, let's wait."

Go deeper: Read the two Michael Cohen sentencing memos

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”