Washington: US President Donald Trump denied using campaign funds to pay hush money to women who alleged they had past affairs with him, saying in an interview with Fox News that he only learned of the payments “later on."
“In fact my first question when I heard about it was did they come out of the campaign, because that could be a little dicey," Trump said in the interview, a day after his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, implicated him and said the maneuver was designed to sway the election. “And they didn’t come out of the campaign, and that’s big."
The president said the two payments - which totaled $280,000 - “came from me" and noted a May tweet in which he acknowledged paying Cohen a monthly retainer to stop “false and extortionist accusations."
After initially denying knowledge of the hush money, Trump was heard on a 2016 recording made by Cohen that appears to show Trump was informed of at least one of the payments.
Cohen said in court Tuesday he violated a campaign-finance law in 2016 at the “direction" of a political candidate he didn’t identify in court. A statement issued later in the day by Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, identified that person as Trump.
Cohen also said he worked with a “popular national tabloid" to identify negative stories about Trump’s alleged extramarital affairs and quash them, according to court documents. The timing and the financial details match allegations by adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, professionally known as Stormy Daniels, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Trump said that he did not believe that the hush-money payments amounted to a violation of campaign finance law, and suggested he was being unfairly targeted by the Justice Department.
“If you look at President Obama, he had a massive campaign violation, but he had a different Attorney General, and they viewed it a lot differently," Trump said.
Obama’s 2008 campaign was fined $375,000 by the Federal Election Commission for failing to file a series of 48-hour notices for around $1.8 million in campaign contributions in the closing weeks of the campaign, according to a document obtained by Politico.
The president has repeatedly voiced frustration that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been unwilling to intervene into investigations into Trump and his allies, including the ongoing special counsel probe into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia. Earlier on Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he felt “badly" after the conviction of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on eight felony tax and bank fraud charges.