WASHINGTON (CN) – Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, on Wednesday attempted to distance himself from his client’s controversial comments on the violence in Charlottesville by denouncing racism and sharing pictures of himself with black associates on Twitter.
Cohen’s post came one after another of the nation’s most powerful Republicans responded to President Donald Trump’s extraordinary remarks about white supremacists. Yet few mentioned the president.
Posting pictures of himself with former NFL athletes Ray Lewis and Jim Brown, Cohen said that his own family’s history with the holocaust leaves him with “no tolerance for racism.”
“Just because I support @POTUS @realDonaldTrump doesn’t make me a racist,” he tweeted Wednesday morning.
Cohen also shared pictures of himself with senior White House aide Omarosa Manigault and video bloggers Diamond and Silk.
The president has faced intensifying scrutiny in the days since a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia left 32-year-old Heather Heyer dead and several others injured. The president initially placed blame on “many sides.”
Mounting pressure over what many saw as the president’s weak condemnation of the violence on Saturday eventually led Trump to issue a second comment on Monday, specifically condemning the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations. But on Tuesday, the president rekindled the issue, repeating the “blame on both sides” position for the outbreak of violence at the white nationalist rally.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the – as you say, the alt-right?” the president asked reporters during a press conference on Tuesday. “Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact that they came charging with clubs in their hands? Swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do. As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.”
After Cohen’s initial tweet denouncing racism on Wednesday morning, the attorney shared a litany of posts supporting the president: a picture of Trump at the Wailing Wall in Israel donning a yarmulke and a meme featuring a quote from Lynne Patton, a black woman Trump appointed to head the New York and New Jersey region for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Cohen’s retweet of Patton’s statement echoed the position Trump took on Tuesday: “Make no mistake, there is zero tolerance for racism. But the protestors of today are not our brave passive resistance predecessors. #Fact” Patton said.
Meanwhile, the Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, condemned “hate and bigotry.” House Speaker Paul Ryan charged that, “White supremacy is repulsive.” Neither criticized the president’s insistence that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a violent weekend clash between white supremacists and counterdemonstrators.
The nuanced statements reflect the party establishment’s delicate dance. Few top Republican officeholders defended the president in the midst of an escalating political crisis. Yet they are unwilling to declare all-out war against Trump and risk alienating his loyalists. And as the 2018 elections begin to take shape, the debate over Trump’s words appears to be taking hold in GOP primaries.
Former Republican Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, usually silent on current political developments, released a joint statement that stopped short of criticizing Trump as well.
“America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism and hatred in all forms,” the Bushes said.
The Republicans who lashed out at Trump most aggressively were, in many cases, those with the least to lose politically.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who doesn’t face re-election until 2020, said the president “took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally” and the people demonstrating against them.
“Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world,” Graham added, referring to the former Ku Klux Klan leader.