US President Donald Trump has denied he knew about a $US130,000 ($169,000) payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter.
Speaking for the first time about the alleged 2006 encounter on board Air Force One on Friday (Thursday local time), Mr Trump told reporters he didn’t know about the payment made by his lawyer Michael Cohen.
The denial comes as Mr Trump went off-script while in West Virginia, tossing his “boring” script in the air, instead embarking on a bizarre migration rant claiming migrant women are being raped in unprecedented numbers.
When asked by a reporter on board Air Force One why Mr Cohen made the payment if the allegations were untrue, Mr Trump said: “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael’s my attorney.”
Asked if he knew about the payment to Daniels, Mr Trump said “No.”
Asked if he knew where the money came from to pay Ms Daniels, Mr Trump told reporters: “No, I don’t know.”
Mr Cohen has said he paid Ms Daniels out of his own pocket.
The White House has denied Mr Trump had sex with Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
In an interview that aired last week, Ms Daniels told CBS’s “60 Minutes” program that she and Mr Trump had sexual relations only once in 2006 when she was 27, but he had kept in touch with her. She said she was not attracted to Mr Trump, who was 60 at the time.
Breaking News: President Trump denied knowledge of a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels from his lawyer in 2016. It’s his first public remark on the matter.https://t.co/z1s195eGNO
— The New York Times (@nytimes) April 5, 2018
Ms Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti later tweeted: ”We very much look forward to testing the truthfulness of Mr. Trump’s feigned lack of knowledge concerning the $130k payment as stated on Air Force One”.
“As history teaches us, it is one thing to deceive the press and quite another to do so under oath.”
Trump embarks on unscripted rant
Meanwhile, Mr Trump’s visit to West Virginia to showcase the benefits of Republican tax cuts, took a big and meandering detour to talk about his tough immigration and trade plans.
Tossing his “boring” prepared remarks into the air, he went on an unscripted rant that claimed migrant women are being raped in unprecedented numbers and that “millions” of people voted illegally in California.
He linked immigration with the rise of violent gangs like MS-13 and suggested again that there had been widespread fraud in the 2016 election that cost him the popular vote.
“In many places, like California, the same person votes many times. You probably heard about that,” Mr Trump said. “They always like to say, ‘Oh, that’s a conspiracy theory.’ Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people. And it’s very hard because the state guards their records. They don’t want us to see them.”
While there have been isolated cases of voter fraud in the US, past studies have found it to be exceptionally rare. Earlier this year, the White House disbanded a controversial voter fraud commission amid infighting and lawsuits as state officials refused to co-operate.
In recent weeks, Mr Trump has been pushing back more against the restraints of the office to offer more unvarnished opinions and make policy moves that some aides have tried to forestall.
“This was going to be my remarks. They would have taken about two minutes,” Mr Trump said as he tossed his script into the air. “This is boring. We have to tell it like it is.”
Instead, Mr Trump conjured up images of violence and suffering when he described the perils of illegal immigration, though statistics show that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than citizens.
He dubbed MS-13 gang members “thugs” and said his administration’s crackdown on the group was “like a war”.
Mirroring his June 2015 campaign launch speech, in which he suggested that some Mexican immigrants were rapists, Mr Trump appeared to claim that a caravan of migrants that had been working its way north through Mexico toward the US was besieged with violence. In that he claimed that the women in the migration trail were being raped “at levels that nobody has ever seen before”.
“Remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower when I opened? Everybody said, ‘Oh, he was so tough,’ and I used the word rape,” he said. “And yesterday it came out where this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before. They don’t want to mention that.”
It was not clear what Mr Trump was referring to.
“MS-13 is emblematic of evil, and we’re getting them out by the hundreds,” said Mr Trump, who addressed the crowd from a stage in a gym draped in American flags and decorated with signs that read “USA open for business”.
“This is the kind of stuff and crap we are allowing in our country, and we can’t do it anymore.”
Mr Trump also defended his proposed tariff plan, which many of his fellow Republicans fear will start a trade war with China.
All of that overshadowed any time spent promoting the tax plan.