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Sen. Rounds says Trump supporters still like his policies, if not his personal behavior

Are the crimes of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen affecting how President Trump is perceived among Republican colleagues? Senator Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, talks to Judy Woodruff about ramifications for the president, including whether the latest news is distracting from legislative priorities and how constituents are separating President Trump’s political agenda from his personal behavior.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for a Republican perspective, we're joined now by Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota.

    Senator Rounds, thank you very much for talking with us again.

    Looking at the event of the last 24,28 hours, what is your sense of whether the president is any closer to any sort of legal jeopardy?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.:

    I don't think he's getting closer to legal jeopardy right now.

    I think this has been an issue that's going to be in the — in the press for an extended period of time. The process that's in place right now has to play out completely. Mr. Mueller needs to continue to finish out the work that he started.

    And, in the meantime, at the congressional level, we're going to try to continue to do our work here in D.C. and try to focus on an appropriations bill. We're focusing on moving forward with the Supreme Court nominee and a number of other items, including a number of other nominations that have to be completed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There are two elements — I hear you, Senator.

    At the same time, there are two elements that came out of the testimony yesterday and then beyond that, today, from Michael Cohen, very close to the president for years, his former personal attorney.

    As you know, he testified in federal court that the head of a campaign — he's clearly referring to the president — directed him to make payments to a woman to be quiet about an alleged affair.

    Does this not at least raise questions in your mind? Can you just go about your work and completely ignore that?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.:

    We're not ignoring it, but we didn't exactly see it as news, either, because most of us had recognized that the president — his attorneys earlier had indicated that there had been a direction on their part and had admitted earlier, had confirmed earlier that those payments had been made, and that the — that the president — or that they had directed the payments be made.

    Whether or not there's a violation of federal election law and so forth will be determined by the appropriate sources, but most certainly is a political issue any time someone is accused of an improper activity. And that will be in the news and it will be something that we will continue to talk about.

    But is it a distraction for us? The answer is, yes, it is. But I don't think that it changes anything in terms of what we had expected to come out based upon what the president had — or what his attorneys had already indicated was the case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president, as you know, has had — has had several different explanations for what happened. He said earlier this year he didn't know of any payments. Then he acknowledged later that he did.

    And now he's — there's a conflict between his version and Mr. Cohen's version.

    Are you hearing from your constituents about this?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.:

    You know, our constituents, for the most part, have simply said they like the policies that he's got. They think he is really seriously intent on trying to make things better here in the country.

    They don't agree with a lot of the tweets that he says. And they have made it very clear that they don't appreciate some of the personal activity that he most certainly has been involved with.

    But they think that he's moving the country with regard to the policy in the right direction. They think that he is trying to make it a better country. But, once again, yes, when you talk to them personally, they disagree with his tweeting, and they disagree in many cases with — with what he has been involved with personally.

    But, once again, they like the policies and so forth, and they continue to support moving forward with the policies that the president has suggested.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other thing about Mr. Cohen.

    His attorney, Lanny Davis, telling us tonight, and he's told other news organizations, that Mr. Cohen is prepared to testify to the Robert Mueller investigation, even to the Congress, that he — that he has knowledge of what the president knew about Russian attempts to interfere with the election.

    How much of a factor could that be, do you think?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.:

    Well, I'm not sure what Mr. Cohen would — would testify to, although he's indicated that he has items of interest that he would like to share.

    And, most certainly, Mr. Mueller has the opportunity to interview once again, and to learn as much as he can. We want that process to continue on. That's the reason why you have the special prosecutor in the first place.

    What — at this time, we have not found that there has been any involvement in terms of the Trump campaign with the Russian government or with any type of a collusion. And I think that's what the involvement — or that's what the special prosecutor was all about in the first place.

    And so I think working our way through this process is good for the country, work the way through the process, allow Mr. Mueller to complete his work, and to make his report with whatever findings he has.

    That's what we have expected him to do in the first place. And that's what we continue to support at this time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just finally, quickly, Senator, if you were able to give the president advice right now, what would it be?

  • Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.:

    Look, I think the president most certainly has some issues here that he has to be able to share with the country.

    I think — like anyone else, I think he cares deeply about what people think about him. And I think he wants to do the right thing for the country.

    So, rather than trying to give the president advice, I would simply say that the people that are out there truly want to see him be successful. They want to see him move forward. And how he goes about doing that is going to determine whether or not he's going to be successful in the near future or not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.:

    Thank you.

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