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Utah Rep. Chris Stewart says it's too early to know if Trump broke campaign finance laws

Michael Cohen leaves Federal court, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, in New York. Cohen, has pleaded guilty to charges including campaign finance fraud stemming from hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Michael Cohen leaves Federal court, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, in New York. Cohen, has pleaded guilty to charges including campaign finance fraud stemming from hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Mary Altaffer, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — It's too early to say whether President Donald Trump committed a crime as his former lawyer and fixer asserted while pleading guilty to breaking campaign finance laws and other charges in court, Rep. Chris Stewart said Wednesday.

The Utah Republican said there might be some implications for Trump regarding Federal Election Commission violations, but it's not clear to him what those would be.

"I don't know that we know that yet. I think we should let the process play out, by the way. Let them go through what any other candidate or elected official would go through. That is, if there was a potential violation, let the FEC investigate that," Stewart said.

Stewart was one of few Republicans to speak on the issue Wednesday.

Michael Cohen said in a federal court hearing in New York on Tuesday that Trump directed him to arrange the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a former Playboy model to fend off damage to his election campaign. Cohen admitted to lying about his income to evade income taxes, lying to banks to obtain loans and making illegal contributions to benefit Trump's White House bid.

Also Tuesday, a federal court jury in Virgina found Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, guilty of tax fraud and bank fraud in a separate case.

Stewart said he sees no ties to the Trump campaign because those crimes happened long before Manafort's association with the president. He said Manafort should go to jail and Trump shouldn't even think about pardoning him.

"I think it's a terrible idea, and I don't think the president's considering it. But I hope he's not. Why in the world would you pardon this individual? Why treat him any differently than any other person who broke the law?" Stewart said.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also weighed in on the Manafort and Cohen cases, telling reporters Wednesday the news constituted "serious charges."

"Well I'm not very happy about it," he said of the hush money. "It should never have happened to begin with."

"Naturally it makes you very concerned, but the president should not be held responsible for the actions of the people he's trusted," Hatch said.

Hatch also told the New York Times Wednesday that he believes Trump is a changed man since taking office.

"Eight years ago to 10 years ago, Trump was not what I consider to be a pillar of virtue," Hatch told the Times. "I think he has changed a lot of his life once he was elected. I think Trump is a much better person today than he was then."

Hatch went on to say that, "I think most people in this country realize that Donald Trump comes from a different world. He comes from New York City, he comes from a slam-bang, difficult world. It is amazing he is as good as he is. If anything, you have to give him plaudits for the way he has run the country as president," the Times reported.

The Democratic and Republican candidates seeking to replace Hatch expressed their thoughts on Twitter.

"Know a man by his friends. The president cannot distance himself from the crimes of his former personal attorney or his campaign chair," said Jenny Wilson, a Democratic Salt County Council member.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, tweeted, "The events of the last 24 hours confirm that conduct by highly placed individuals was both dishonorable and illegal. Also confirmed is my faith in our justice system and my conviction that we are a nation committed to the rule of law."

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called the Cohen indictment "troubling" and said Americans deserve to know more.

"The allegations in this indictment are going to be adjudicated one way or another, and until we know more about how it will be adjudicated I think it is premature to speculate about the allegations in the indictment," he said in a statement.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said in a statement that countless Americans have given their lives to ensure laws apply to everyone equally.

"The recent conviction of Paul Manafort and guilty plea from Michael Cohen show that none are above the law. As always, I support the processes through which legal wrongdoing is brought to light and believe we must let those processes play out," she said.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, expressed similar thoughts.

"We are a nation of laws and those laws are upheld by a sound legal system," he said in a statement. "While many are hungry for finality, we must all respect the thorough nature of the system and allow justice to run its course."

Stewart said he continues to back the president's goals for the country, even though some of Trump's personal behavior puts him in a tough spot as a congressman.

"It's not the first time that I've had this problem where I support the president's agenda," Stewart said. "But when it comes to his personal behavior and some of the other things, it puts me in a bind because I can't support those and I've been clear on that."

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, was in South America on official business for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and unavailable for comment, his spokeswoman, Katie Thompson, said.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche