US President Donald Trump on Thursday admitted he reimbursed his lawyer for a $130,000 payment to a porn star, ending months of White House denial.
Trump tweeted that his personal lawyer Michael Cohen used a retainer to pay off Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had sexual relations with the now president.
But Trump slammed claims of an affair with Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — as “false and extortionist.”
The sexual encounter allegedly took place in 2006, four months after Trump’s wife Melania gave birth to their son Barron.
Cohen’s payment was made days before the November 2016 US presidential election, potentially violating campaign financing laws.
In a burst of tweets, Trump denied the hush money was connected to his campaign, calling it a “private agreement.”
Trump also said non-disclosure agreements were “very common among celebrities and people of wealth.”
The admission came at an awkward time for Trump, hours before he hosted religious leaders at the White House for a National Prayer Day event, which the first lady did not attend.
Trump ignored questions about the issue from the press, and guests, many of whom were political supporters of the president, shouted “shame on you” at reporters.
Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who recently joined the president’s legal team, was first to disclose on Wednesday that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for the payment over a period of several months.
That news shocked many including White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who has for months claimed Trump had no prior knowledge of the payment.
“The first awareness I had was during the interview last night,” Sanders admitted.
“I’m giving the best information I have. Some information I am aware of and some I’m not. When I can answer, I will.”
In early April the FBI raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room.
NBC News on Thursday reported that the FBI has for months been monitoring the list of Cohen’s calls, although not necessarily listening in, as the network first reported.
– Money’s source –
Giuliani told Fox News host and Trump supporter Sean Hannity that the money was funneled through a law firm “and the president repaid it.”
He added that the payment did not represent a campaign financing violation because it was “not campaign money.”
Giuliani told The New York Times he had documentation proving Trump had reimbursed the sum, which he said “removes the campaign finance violation” prospect.
“Some time after the campaign is over, they set up a reimbursement, $35,000 a month, out of his personal family account,” Giuliani told the Times, adding that Trump gave Cohen between $460,000 and $470,000 via this method to repay the sum to the porn star as well as “incidental expenses.”
Trump had previously denied all knowledge of the payment to Daniels, before admitting last week that Cohen struck a “deal” with the porn star on his behalf.
Asked by reporters on Air Force One earlier this month about the transaction, Trump said: “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael,” he said.
Pressed on whether he knew where Cohen got the money to make the payment, he said: “No, I don’t know. No.”
– ‘Blatantly lied’ –
Giuliani also told The Wall Street Journal Trump was “probably not aware” of the payment at the time it was made, having given Cohen broad “discretion to solve” a variety of issues.
Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti reacted swiftly to the revelation, accusing the US president of lying.
“We predicted months ago that it would be proven that the American people had been lied to as to the $130k payment and what Mr. Trump knew, when he knew it and what he did in connection with it,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Every American, regardless of their politics, should be outraged by what we have now learned. Mr. Trump stood on AF1 and blatantly lied.”
Daniels filed a lawsuit against the president on Monday for defamation after he trashed her claim that she had been threatened by a man representing Trump in 2011.