WATCH: Tom Cotton flounders trying to justify Trump's tax avoidance and private debt
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). Image via screengrab.

On CNN Tuesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) tried to defend President Donald Trump from the New York Times reports of tax avoidance and business losses.

"Senator, you obviously know the numbers," said host Erin Burnett. "The average American household pays ... well over $1,000 in income tax. Do you think it is a problem that the president says he's a billionaire, paid only $750?"

"Well, Erin, I want to point out that I don't necessarily credit The New York Times' reporting on this topic, since they claim to have obtained documents — it's not even clear they obtained them in a legal matter — without revealing the content of the documents," said Cotton. "I will say that I think most Americans care less about the past of Donald Trump's business than the future of their family and job and community."

"I want to ask you about the debt," said Burnett. "I think this is significant given your expertise. You know a lot about this. The president, more than $400 million in debt according to that report. And obviously we know most of that is due over the next four years. Just to ask you, with your expertise, if someone asked for a security clearance with that sort of debt, would you ever give it if you did not know to whom that debt was due?"

"Erin, again, you're speculating based on records The New York Times purports to have and purports to have analyzed correctly," said Cotton. "I'm not going to engage in that kind of speculation. The American people were presented with these same questions four years ago and they elected Donald Trump ... I believe the American people are more concerned about their future, about their finances than they are about the finances of Donald Trump's businesses."

"I do think, though, it's extremely relevant, when you talk about someone who has a security clearance and can know every secret in this country and $400 million, he owes this to somebody, right?" said Burnett. "I understand you want to question the report itself. My question is, if someone is in that sort of debt, would you be okay giving security clearance to that person not knowing to whom they owe that money?"

"Erin, the president, any president, holds security clearance obviously at the highest permissible because of his election to the office," said Cotton. "And again, this report is speculative. We don't know what the real records are. One thing we do know is that there was no evidence of any kind of significant debt to Russia or Russia being behind any financing ... for all those saying Donald Trump was beholden to Russia, this report suggests that's not the case."

"It doesn't explain at all, because we don't know who he owes that money to," said Burnett. "Why shouldn't he put out that information, the tax returns and the information that would show who he owes the money? We have no idea to whom he owes that money."

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