Ever since Donald Trump was elected president and consolidated his hold over the Republican base, the consistent position of most GOP officeholders, in the face of gigabytes of debunking by fact checkers, has been: Trump never lies.
But now, faced with evidence in the form of checks written to Michael Cohen by Trump while in office — payments his former lawyer says were to silence women who alleged they had extramarital affairs with Trump — their defense has taken a new twist: If he did lie, it was only to protect the feelings of his family.
“I think most of us have a concern anytime you have a president who is trying to work through some very personal matters,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said when asked in an interview with CNN Wednesday if he was "OK" with Trump paying hush money to a porn star while in the White House.
“I honestly think this president loves his family," Rounds continued. "And I think it has as much to do with trying 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.”
He added: “Every time I think about this, I think about that particular issue because I think he really does care about his family, I think he loves his family, and I don’t think he wanted his family to go through this.”
During his appearance before the House Oversight Committee last week, Cohen testified that Trump directed him to make a $130,000 hush money payment on the eve of the 2016 presidential election to silence porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had a sexual encounter with him in 2006. At the time, Trump had been married to his wife, Melania, for less than two years.
Trump has denied reports of the relationship and claimed he had no knowledge of payoffs to Daniels or another woman, Karen McDougal. His lawyer Rudy Giuliani has given a series of conflicting and confusing explanations on the matter.
As evidence, Cohen submitted a $35,000 check he says Trump gave to him in July 2017 in partial reimbursement of the payment to Daniels. He told the committee there are a total of 11 checks issued by Trump himself or Trump associates that year.
Republicans members of the committee did not challenge Cohen's evidence — opting, instead, to attack his credibility.
Cohen, who last year pleaded guilty to charges involving campaign finance fraud related to the payments and lying to Congress, is due to begin a three-year prison sentence in May.
Rounds is not the only Republican to raise the family defense.
On ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Sunday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked about the hush money checks.
McCarthy argued that if reimbursing Cohen for payments intended to avoid embarrassing news during the campaign was a violation of campaign finance laws, then Cohen, as Trump's lawyer, should have informed the president at the time. And in any case, McCarthy contended, it was a technical violation of a reporting requirement which is typically settled with a fine — and not, as some Democrats have argued, an impeachable offense.
"If there’s no problem," Stephanopoulos said, "Then why did the president lie about it for so long?
"You know, you could ask that question to the president," McCarthy said. "But this is a personal issue, and why would most people not go to the American public about this?"
Trump’s extramarital adventures have already caused turmoil in his family. According to a 2017 memoir by his first wife, Ivana Trump, Donald Jr. didn’t speak to his father for a year after the pair split over Trump's public affair with Marla Maples.
After divorcing Ivana, Trump married Maples in 1993.
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