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GOP senator: Trump's hush-money payoff is proof he 'loves his family'

Republicans have had some time to work on a defense of Trump's hush-money scandal. It doesn't appear to be going well.
US President Donald Trump walks after arriving on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, April 28, 2017.

The evidence that Donald Trump financed an illegal cover-up, using hush-money to pay off a porn star, is quite compelling. The New York Times added some additional context yesterday, juxtaposing the Republican's presidential duties with the dates in which he signed reimbursement checks to his former fixer.

What do congressional Republicans have to say about this? CNN's John Berman spoke with Sen. Mike Rounds (R) of South Dakota yesterday, who did his best to defend his ally in the White House. From the network's transcript:

"I think most of us have a concern any time you have a president who is trying to work through some very personal matters. I think -- I honestly think this president loves his family, and I think it has as much to do with trying not to -- not to have public discussions about something that is, for him, a private matter that he didn't want to have discussed with his family. And I think that's a lot of it."You know, I think that every time I think about this I think about that particular issue, because I -- I think he really does care about -- about his family. I think he loves his family, and I don't think he wanted his family to -- to go through this."

Hmm. The president is accused of having an extra-marital affair with a porn star, soon after the birth of his youngest child, before implementing a legally dubious hush-money scheme -- which is sending his former lawyer to prison -- and then lying about it.

It's tough to see this as a strictly "personal" matter. Indeed, when Bill Clinton lied about an affair, Republicans impeached him.

It's even harder to consider these revelations proof of Trump's commitment to his family.

The larger point, however, is not to pick on Mike Rounds' unfortunate argument. Rather, it's also worth appreciating just how much difficulty the president's allies are having in coming up with coherent defenses.

For example, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) this week tried to dismiss the importance of Trump's hush-money scandal by saying, "You've seen politicians do this exact same thing in the past."

But that's a tough sell, too. The everybody-does-it defense is generally unpersuasive, but it's even worse in this case given the specific details of Trump's scandal.

An unnamed senior House Republican told the Washington Post last week, "Truthfully, it is tough to ignore some of the gross immoral behavior by the president. The reason there was no defense is because there is no defense."

Maybe more of the White House's GOP allies should try adopting this stance.

* Update: Just to clarify a point, it's very likely that Mike Rounds' argument is intended to serve as an exculpatory defense. Indeed, we've heard talk like this before: if Trump's pre-election hush-money scheme was about his family, and not about the campaign, then it's a personal scandal, not a legal one.

Thanks to the work of federal prosecutors in New York, who are sending to Michael Cohen to prison, we already know this pitch isn't true.