WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said on Thursday he did not know about a $130,000 payment made to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels for her silence, his first public acknowledgment of the scandal surrounding an alleged sexual affair that has plagued him for months.
“No,” a terse Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One when questioned about his knowledge of the payment, which was made by his private attorney Michael Cohen in the month before the 2016 election.
The one word response broke a months-long public silence from Trump on the matter, though he’s fumed about the issue in private and adamantly denied to his associates Daniels’ claim he had an affair with her in 2006.
An agitated Trump tried to move quickly on — “What else?” he asked after responding — but reporters in the press cabin continued their questioning, asking why Cohen made the payment.
“You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” Trump said. “Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”
He said he didn’t know where the money came from, and denied he set up a fund for Cohen to draw from in making the payment.
The back-and-forth lasted only 25 seconds. But Trump’s remarks amount to his most robust response yet to a story that has continued to pose legal and ethical questions for the White House. Trump’s advisers encouraged him to avoid inflaming the issue by addressing it publicly, even as the President was itching to defend himself.
The White House has consistently refused to answer whether Trump was aware of the payment Cohen made to Daniels in October 2016.
The payment came in conjunction with a nondisclosure agreement Daniels signed that was designed to prevent her from speaking about the alleged sexual encounter.
Daniels recently filed a lawsuit to get out of the agreement, claiming it was void because Trump himself did not sign it. And she has spoken out about her experience, including during an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired last month.
On Thursday, her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said Trump’s remarks improved their legal standing.
“Our case just got that much better. And we very much look forward to testing the truthfulness of Mr. Trump’s feigned lack of knowledge concerning the $130k payment as he stated on Air Force One,” Avenatti said in a statement.
“As history teaches us, it is one thing to deceive the press and quite another to do so under oath,” he said.
Further, Avenatti told CNN he plans to refile a motion to depose Trump and Cohen on Monday, the same motion that was rejected recently because a judge said it was “premature.”
“Now it’s not premature,” Avenatti said, since the other side has since filed a motion to compel arbitration. “We will seek the deposition of Cohen and Trump.”