Sen. Orrin Hatch on Monday dismissed new court papers directly implicating President Donald Trump in efforts to buy women's silence, saying the matter is irrelevant because the economy is booming and the payments were made before Trump was elected to the White House.
Hatch, R-Utah, who is retiring at the end of his current term, told CNN’s Manu Raju that the years before Trump became president are “another world."
"Since he's become president this economy has charged ahead," Hatch said, adding, "And I think we ought to judge him on that basis other than trying to drum up things from the past that may or may not be true."
The Republican also told Raju that "you can make anything a crime under the current laws" and that he believes Trump is doing a good job.
Earlier in his congressional career, during Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999, Hatch voted to convict the president, saying in a statement at the time that “committing crimes of moral turpitude such as perjury and obstruction of justice go to the heart of qualification for public office.”
"This great nation can tolerate a president who makes mistakes," Hatch said then. "But it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up. Any other citizen would be prosecuted for these crimes."
As Trump's legal woes have mounted in the wake of the new court filings, Republicans have rallied to defend the president, playing down as a nonissue his efforts to silence the women. Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, argue that lawyer Michael Cohen's payments to the women on Trump's behalf were felony campaign-finance violations.
Some Democrats, such as Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., have mused that Trump could face jail time once he leaves the White House. Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., said Monday night that Trump's legal woes are only deepening.
The Cohen case "really sharpens the president's legal risk here, and I agree with Congressman Schiff that that might well form the basis for an indictment after the president leaves office," Coons said on CNN.
But Trump's congressional allies rejected that possibility.
"As long as Cohen's a liar, I shouldn't give much credibility to what he says," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Monday when asked about the new court filings. After a reporter pointed out that federal prosecutors were the ones making the allegations, Grassley replied, "He got his information from a liar."
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., contended that Trump and his team were "new to this at the time" and thus might not have been aware of campaign finance law.
"Most of us have made mistakes when it comes to campaign finance issues," Thune said, according to Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times. "In many cases, campaigns end up paying fines and penalties."
Some Republicans sought to dodge the issue entirely.
Asked whether he is satisfied with Trump's defense of the alleged campaign finance violations, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he did not know enough about the matter.
"I think that's a matter for the special counsel and for the president and the Department of Justice, not Congress," he said.
The Washington Post’s Erica Werner and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.