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Trump leads National Day of Prayer event after saying he repaid lawyer Michael Cohen for hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels

  • President Trump gave an address for the National Day of Prayer at the White House on Thursday.
  • Hours earlier on Twitter, Trump said his lawyer, Michael Cohen, was reimbursed for a pre-election payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels.

President Donald Trump led a National Day of Prayer event Thursday, just hours after he disclosed that he reimbursed his lawyer for paying hush money to a porn star.

During the event in the White House's Rose Garden, the president signed an executive memorandum designed to protect religious groups.

Trump said the memorandum gives equal access to government funding and equal rights of expression to faith-based organizations. The order also establishes a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative to serve as a liaison between the Trump administration and faith-based programs.

"Faith is more powerful than government, and nothing is more powerful than God," Trump said.

The annual religious-themed event presented a dramatic contrast with the biggest news of the day, however. It took place hours after Trump acknowledged reimbursing his lawyer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election as part of a hush agreement barring her from discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.

President Donald Trump speaks at the National Day of Prayer ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, May 3, 2018.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks at the National Day of Prayer ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, May 3, 2018.

Trump denied knowledge of the payment when asked about it in April. Cohen has previously said the payment came from his own pocket, and that he was not paid back by Trump.

In the Rose Garden on Thursday, Trump was joined by Vice President Mike Pence and Pence's wife, Karen, as well as the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. First lady Melania Trump was not scheduled to attend the event.

The White House declined to provide any further details about why the first lady did not attend the ceremony, but her absence was notable at an official event where faith and family traditionally take center stage.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and federal prosecutor who recently joined Trump's legal team, broached the importance of family in a Fox News interview earlier Thursday. He that the payment to the porn star was for "personal reasons," as opposed to being considered a campaign contribution.

"If we had to defend this as not being a campaign contribution, I think we could do that," Giuliani said. "This was for personal reasons. This was the president had been hurt, personally, not politically, personally so much."

Giuliani defended Cohen in the interview, saying: "I think he was trying to help the family. For that, the man is being treated like some kind of villain. He was just being a good lawyer. And a good man."

In his Thursday morning tweets, Trump said such nondisclosure agreements are "very common among celebrities and people of wealth."

He added that Daniels' allegations of a dalliance with Trump years earlier are "false," and that "Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll [sic] in this transaction."

In a series of jaw-dropping interviews Wednesday, Giuliani said that the payment to Daniels was "funneled through a law firm, and the president repaid it." The reimbursement, Giuliani told The New York Times, was meted out in increments of $35,000 from a "personal family account" beginning after the campaign ended. The payments totaled up to $470,000, Giuliani told the newspaper. Giuliani told Fox News' Sean Hannity that the president may not have known about the details for making the payment.