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GOP senator on Russia emails: “I don’t think this is relevant to the Trump administration”

It is difficult to defend the indefensible. Take Sen. Orrin Hatch’s response to Donald Trump Jr.’s emails revealing that the top echelons of the Trump campaign were trying to collude with the Russian government to win the election. How do you justify that? Particularly when the emails — which were seen not just by Trump Jr. but also by campaign manager Paul Manafort and top adviser Jared Kushner — say the contact is a “Russian government attorney” who wants to help them as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”?

Here’s how the Utah Republican — who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee — did it:

"I don't think this is relevant to the Trump administration," Hatch told reporters about Trump Jr.'s emails.

This is absurd.

First, Jared Kushner remains a senior adviser to President Trump, and was a key voice advocating that James Comey — the FBI director investigating the ties between Trump and Russia — be fired. These emails are clearly relevant to the ongoing obstruction of justice investigation afflicting the White House.

Second, the Trump administration currently makes policy on Russia. They are, for instance, trying to stop a bill imposing sanctions on Russia. Trump himself has been notably cool toward the NATO alliance — an alliance meant to protect against Russian aggression in Europe — going so far as to omit mention of the collective protection aspects of the treaty from a key speech. These emails suggest the Trump administration might be making policy toward Russia as payback for political favors or, worse, in an effort to forestall more damaging evidence of collusion from being released.

But arguing Hatch’s point is almost making a category error. If this were the Clinton administration, and Chelsea Clinton, Bill Clinton, and John Podesta had been trying to work with China to influence the election, no one believes Hatch would dismiss it as irrelevant.

My colleague Matt Yglesias has argued that the longer Republicans protect Trump, the more of them will be brought down by his mounting scandals. Hatch is showing how that will work in practice. Forced to respond to the mounting allegations against Trump, Republicans who try to loyally defend the administration will find themselves saying absurd things that are rendered indefensible by subsequent events. And if and when the Trump administration actually collapses, they will be left unable to defend themselves either.

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