Trump’s alleged liaison with porn star under renewed scrutiny

US president confirms he knew $130,000 was paid to Stormy Daniels by Michael Cohen

 Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, and US president Donald Trump:  Mr Trump  previously denied knowing anything about a payment. Photographs: Brendan McDermid/Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, and US president Donald Trump: Mr Trump previously denied knowing anything about a payment. Photographs: Brendan McDermid/Joshua Roberts/Reuters

 

Donald Trump’s alleged liaison with a pornography film star faces renewed scrutiny after the US president confirmed that he knew about a payment made to the woman by his personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Following an appearance by one of his lawyers, Rudi Giuliani, on Fox News on Wednesday night, Mr Trump took to Twitter on Thursday morning to confirm he had repaid Mr Cohen the $130,000 in hush money the attorney had paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election. Mr Trump had previously denied knowing anything about the payment.

Mr Trump made no mention of the deepening controversy as he addressed 200 faith leaders at an event at the White House to celebrate the annual National Day of Prayer. During the ceremony he highlighted the role played by religion in American history. “Prayer has always been at the centre of American life, because America is a nation of believers,” he told the assembled group.

But in a sign of the confusion at the heart of the White House over the matter, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the daily briefing that the first she heard that the president had repaid Mr Cohen was during Mr Giuliani’s interview on Wednesday night.

Asked if she had misled the media by previously stating Mr Trump had no knowledge of the payment, Ms Huckabee Sanders said: “I gave the best information I had at the time.”  

Mr Giuliani’s interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Wednesday night was followed by multiple interviews with US media in the subsequent 24 hours.

Sensitive information

There were reports most senior White House aides were unaware that Mr Giuliani, who joined Mr Trump’s legal team last month, was planning to divulge sensitive information during the interview. Among his other comments was that Mr Trump’s daughter Ivanka was “off-limits” to the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the election, but that her husband Jared Kushner was “disposable”.

Amid reports that special counsel Robert Mueller warned Mr Trump’s representatives in March that he may be subpoenaed to attend an interview, Mr Giuliani said his team would be seeking to limit any interview to two to 2½ hours, based on “a narrow set of questions”.

But the veteran New York lawyer also predicted that Mr Trump would be constitutionally immune from a subpoena. His comments emerged at a sensitive time for the Mueller investigation, as Mr Trump’s legal team negotiates with the special counsel about the scope of a possible interview with the president.

Questions also emerged about why Mr Giuliani, who is representing the president in the Mueller probe, spoke about sensitive security matters during his interview with Fox News, including the suggestion that three American hostages may be released by North Korea.

FBI wiretap

The latest revelations about the Stormy Daniels payment came as NBC reported that Mr Cohen was wiretapped by the FBI. At least one phonecall between a phoneline associated with Mr Trump’s personal lawyer and the White House was tapped, the network reported.  

The wiretap was sanctioned in the weeks leading up to last month’s FBI raid on Mr Cohen’s home, office and hotel room. FBI investigators are investigating Mr Cohen’s payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. Mr Cohen’s legal team successfully petitioned a New York court last week to appoint a special master to assess which documents can be accessed by the FBI, citing attorney-client privilege.

Ms Huckabee Sanders declined to comment on Mr Giuliani’s claim that the three American hostages would be released, but the development was expected to be imminent. Mr Trump is expected to announce further details of his proposed meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the coming days.