21 times Republicans refused to condemn Trump because they 'didn't see the tweet'

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Republicans often avoid answering questions about Trump's offensive comments by playing dumb.

Donald Trump has been tweeting offensive comments for years, whether it's pushing a racist and fake conspiracy theory about former President Barack Obama's birthplace, ratcheting up fears about Ebola, attacking women for their appearance, or bullying anyone who dares to criticize him.

And for as long as Trump has been tweeting, Republicans on Capitol Hill have avoided answering questions about his most loathsome statements by claiming they didn't see the tweet.

GOP lawmakers took that avoidance tactic to the next level on Tuesday, after Trump tweeted a baseless conspiracy theory about a 75-year-old man who was brutalized by police. The man, Martin Gugino, hit his head after he was pushed to the ground by police. Police then left Gugino's lifeless body, walking past him as blood pooled on the sidewalk from Gugino's head.

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In a tweet, Trump claimed without evidence that Gugino was faking it.

"Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur," Trump wrote, attempting to tie Gugino to an unorganized movement of anti-fascist activists that Trump has blamed for the violence that cropped up alongside protests against police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. 

"75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?" Trump added, apparently referring to a segment from the right-wing channel One America News, which is now infamous for pushing false conspiracy theories.

To avoid condemning Trump for the tweet, Republicans not only claimed they didn't see it but refused to read it when handed a printed-out copy of the tweet from reporters on Capitol Hill.

It's an escalation of the avoidance tactic GOP lawmakers have used for years, one that allows Republicans to avoid angering Trump by commenting on his actions.

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who retired in 2018 instead of run for reelection in a Democratic wave that saw House Republicans swept out of power, was one of the originators of the "didn't see the tweet" ploy. Ryan joked about the technique at a charity dinner in 2017, saying, "Every morning, I wake up in my office and scroll Twitter to see which tweets I will have to pretend that I didn't see later."

The avoidance technique has been criticized by Democrats, as official White House policy has been crafted via Trump's Twitter missives. The Department of Justice has even argued in court that Trump's tweets are considered official presidential statements. 

Here are 21 instances where Republicans played dumb to avoid commenting on Trump's tweets. 

June 9, 2019: Trump tweeted a baseless conspiracy theory about 75-year-old man brutalized by police.

Sen. Cory Gardner, the Colorado Republican up for reelection in 2020, told Politico's Burgess Everett that he didn't see the tweet and refused to look at it when Everett handed him a printout. Gardner claimed he was too focused on a bill he was working on.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told CNN's Manu Raju, "I didn't see it. You're telling me about it. I don't read Twitter. I only write on it." Rubio, however, follows more than 2,600 accounts on Twitter and retweets other users. For example, on June 6, Rubio replied to a user's comment on systemic racism saying it was "good advice." 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) refused to answer questions from Everett about Trump's claim, saying he has a policy not to comment on "the tweets."

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) told CNN's Manu Raju, "I don't want to comment right now. I'm on my way to a meeting. I'll see it when I see it."

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) didn't comment on Trump's tweet, claiming he didn't see it, but he expressed concern for the man who was injured after being pushed by police. "I didn't see it," Scott told Politico. "I saw that he did fall and my heart goes out to anybody who gets hurt. Right now this is a tough time. I hope everybody understands that we can peacefully protest but we can't riot." 

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) told reporters on Capitol Hill that he hadn't seen the tweet, and when a reporter told Roberts they had a printout of the tweet to show him, he replied, "I know," yet still didn't comment, according to the Hill.

June 1, 2019: As protesters took to the streets to protest the death of yet another unarmed black man, Trump tweeted a violent quote first said by  infamously racist police chief Walter Headley in the 1960s: "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) refused to comment on Trump's use of the quote, telling CNN, "I didn't see the tweet."

July 15, 2019: Trump tweeted a racist comment telling four Democratic lawmakers, all women and people of color, to "go back" to the "corrupt" countries they came from. 

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) refused to comment on Trump's racist comment, telling CNN's Manu Raju that he hadn't seen the tweet.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said he didn't see the tweets because he "was out," adding, "I'm not giving a daily commentary on the president's tweets."

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) declined to comment, telling CNN,"I haven't read [those tweets] but I'll go check it out"

Jan. 30, 2019: Trump told the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies to "go back to school" after they contradicted Trump's claims during a Senate hearing.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) claimed in an interview with CNN at the time that he hadn't seen Trump's tweets attacking the intelligence chiefs.

Sept. 13, 2018: Trump falsely claimed Democrats faked the death toll from Hurricane Maria. 

Then-Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said he didn't see Trump's tweet.

Nov. 29, 2017: Trump retweeted three virulently anti-Muslim tweets.

Alexander declined to comment on the retweets, saying he didn't see them, according to an NPR report at the time.

NPR also reported that Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), John Hoeven (R-ND), John Kennedy (R-LA), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Tillis all claimed they hadn't seen the tweets and refused to comment.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.