Trump changes story over Stormy Daniels hush money

Trump changes story over Stormy Daniels hush money
Photo credit: Reuters

US President Donald Trump says his personal lawyer was paid back through a monthly retainer, not campaign funds, for the US$130,000 (NZ$185,000) given to adult-film star Stormy Daniels to stop "false and extortionist accusations" she made about a sexual encounter with him.

Mr Trump, who in April told reporters he did not know about the payment to Daniels made by his lawyer Michael Cohen the month before the 2016 election or the source of the money, said on Twitter the funds were part of a "private agreement" that involved money that had "nothing to do with the campaign."

In his fullest account to date regarding the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, Mr Trump acknowledged the non-disclosure agreement with her to secure her silence about what she has called a one-night sexual encounter with Mr Trump in 2006. Mr Trump also forcefully denied the affair.

"The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair ... despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair," Mr Trump wrote, adding that Daniels and her lawyer had violated it.

"Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll (sic) in this transaction."

The claim of repayment is significant because a payment by Cohen could be seen as an illegal campaign contribution. Mr Trump as candidate would have been permitted to make unlimited personal contributions to his own campaign.

Cohen is currently facing a federal criminal investigation in New York in part over the payment to Daniels, with the FBI seizing material from his office and home. The investigation is an offshoot of the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Mr Trump's campaign and Russia and whether Mr Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe.

Mr Trump on Thursday said Cohen "received a monthly retainer" from which he entered into the "non-disclosure agreement." Mr Trump described such agreements as "very common among celebrities and people of wealth."