'Haven't read the damn thing': Republican senators dodge questions about Trump's conspiracy tweet

Some said they hadn't read his tweet about an injured Buffalo protester; others said they had a policy of not discussing the president's Twitter posts.

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By Sahil Kapur, Frank Thorp V and Julie Tsirkin

WASHINGTON — Republican senators don't want to talk about President Donald Trump's tweet. Some say they haven't read it. Others say they don't want to know about it. Yet others say they have a policy of not discussing what the president says on Twitter.

That's perennially true — but perhaps never more so than on Tuesday, when Trump floated an evidence-free conspiracy theory about an elderly Buffalo man captured on camera falling, hitting his head and bleeding after being pushed by a police officer. The man was hospitalized and two officers were charged with assault after the video went viral and drew national outrage.

Trump said the man may be an “ANTIFA provocateur," referring to an anti-fascist leftist group, and asked if the whole encounter with police could have been a set-up.

When asked about the president's tweet, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill: "I haven’t read the damn thing. I don’t want to hear it."

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is up for re-election this fall, walked away when asked about it.

"I didn't see it," Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said of the president's tweet after a reporter read it aloud to him. "I'm sure that my office will be able to get me a copy of it, but I didn't see it, and I didn't — I saw the — that he had fallen. But, look, my heart goes out to anybody who gets hurt."

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., replied, "I just saw the tweet, and I know nothing of the episode so I don't know."

Asked if the president should be more careful about tweeting conspiracy theories, Cramer said, "I don't know whether the president should be careful or not about what he tweets, and I don't think Donald Trump is going to change his behavior."

It was the latest instance of prominent Republicans dodging questions about a Trump tweet or claiming they were unaware of it. The White House's position is that Trump's tweets are official statements from the president, who boasts nearly 82 million followers on the platform.

Many Republican lawmakers find the president's comments at times to be indefensible but prefer not to criticize him publicly, fearful that he'll strike back and damage their reputation with the party's voters.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sidestepped two questions about whether Trump's tweet was appropriate. He pivoted to saying that Republicans are crafting a legislative response to the recent protests that will be led by Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black GOP senator.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said he isn't Trump's spokesman and referred questions to the president.

"No real response to it but I don’t think it should be surprising in general because he tweets a lot," said Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is in the midst of a difficult re-election battle, said, "I think it would be best if the president would not comment on issues that are before the courts."

Some GOP senators had a bit more to say about the president's remark.

"I saw the tweet, it was a shocking thing to say, and I won’t dignify it with any further comment," said Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican in the Senate to vote to convict Trump after his impeachment trial.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she had just seen the tweet.

"It just makes no sense that we’re fanning the flames not at this time, this is not good," she said. "Not at any time."

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee who is vying to win over seniors this fall, responded to his opponent on Twitter:

The Drudge Report, a news aggregator that is widely read by conservatives, featured the story front and center with the headline: "AARP-ANTIFA? TRUMP LASHES OUT AT SENIOR!"

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said most Republicans "would rather not be political commentators on the president’s tweets," although he noted that Trump's claim was unsubstantiated.

"It’s a serious accusation which should only be made with facts and evidence," Thune told reporters. "And I haven’t seen any yet."