GOP senator: Trump lied because he 'loves his family'

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 that 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.

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Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaks to the media outside US Federal Court on April 16, 2018, in Lower Manhattan, New York. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. Some of the documents reportedly relate to payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims a one-night stand with Trump a decade ago, and ex Playboy model Karen McDougal who also claims an affair. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen arrives at federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Michael Avenatti, lawyer for adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, leaves federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Michael Cohen's attorney Todd Harrison arrives at federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen (centre) leaves federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Michael Cohen's attorney Todd Harrison is pictured outside the Manhattan Federal Court in New York City, New York, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen exits a hotel in New York City, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, speaks to media along with lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) outside federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
Attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti is pictured though a window as he arrives at federal court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and attorney Michael Avenatti arrive at Federal Court in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 16, 2018. Daniels claims she had sex with Donald Trump in 2006 and took a $130,000 hush payment shortly before the 2016 election from lawyer Michael Cohen. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
President Trumps lawyer Michael Cohen exits the US Federal Court on April 16, 2018, in Lower Manhattan, New York. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. Some of the documents reportedly relate to payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims a one-night stand with Trump a decade ago, and ex Playboy model Karen McDougal who also claims an affair. / AFP PHOTO / EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ (Photo credit should read EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, (C) also known as Stormy Daniels arrives for a court hearing at the US Courthouse in New York on April 16, 2018. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. / AFP PHOTO / Hector RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Attorney for Stormy Daniels, Michael Avenatti(C), arrives for a court hearing at the US Courthouse in New York on April 16, 2018. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months over his business dealings, and FBI agents last week raided his home, hotel room, office, a safety deposit box and seized two cellphones. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL (Photo credit should read HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 13: Michael Avenatti (R), attorney for Stormy Daniels, arrives for a court proceeding regarding the search warrants served on President Donald Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, at the United States District Court Southern District of New York, April 13, 2018 in New York City. Cohen and his lawyers are asking the court to block Justice Department officials from reading documents and materials related to his relationship with President Donald Trump that they believe should be protected by attorney-client privilege. Officials with the FBI, armed with a search warrant, raided Cohen's office and two private residences earlier in the week. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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“I honestly think this president loves his family," Rounds continued. "And 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.

Cohen also said he was told by Trump to lie to reporters about the president's knowledge of the payments.

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 his Ivana, Trump married Maples in 1993.

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