Rick Santorum rolls out an odd defense of Trump on Russian collusion

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Former Pa. senator Rick Santorum (left) stands beside then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in Iowa in January 2016. These days, Santorum is one of a handful of analysts paid by CNN to defend Trump's administration.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum played a large role in Donald Trump becoming president.

As Newsweek’s Bill Powell detailed following the election, Trump met with Santorum months before he announced his presidential campaign to speak about his his book, Blue Collar Conservatives, Recommitting to an America That Works. Trump was reportedly a big fan of the book, and thought a campaign based on reaching working-class voters in the industrial Midwest could land a Republican in the White House.

Of course, that’s exactly what happened. Santorum has backed Trump publicly since May 2016 and helped Trump’s campaign. He’s also been a vocal defender of his administration’s policies in his current role as a senior political analyst on CNN.

But on CNN’s State of Union on Sunday, Santorum chose an odd line of defense to push back questions about the possibility Trump’s campaign team could have colluded with the Russians during the election.

“From my perspective, having worked with the Trump campaign, I’d be stunned that they were organized enough to collude with anybody,” Santorum said.

So far, no evidence has emerged that Trump or anyone on his campaign worked with the Russians to undermine the 2016 election. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named former FBI director Robert Mueller as a special counsel last week to investigate claims of Russian meddling, something Santorum wasn’t the biggest fan of.

“Special prosecutors have a history of prosecuting,” Santorum said. “Why? Because they have to justify their existence.”

Santorum also didn't appear to be too big a fan of Trump's speech, where he toned down his rhetoric against Muslims and called for cooperation among Middle Eastern countries in fighting radical organizations like ISIS

"Could he and should he have been tougher?" Santorum asked. "Yes, but I will take what I can get."

Watch:

Santorum is one of about a dozen pro-Trump contributors CNN pays to defend the administration during news broadcasts. Other pro-Trump contributors include Jeffrey Lord, Kayleigh McEnany, and Scottie Nell Hughes. 

CNN CEO Jeffrey Zucker has described contributors such as Santorum and Lord as "characters in a drama," a move he says he learned by studying how networks like ESPN approached debating sports. 

“The idea that politics is sport is undeniable, and we understood that and approached it that way," Zucker said in a profile in the New York Times