MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
All right. The news that Donald Trump repaid his attorney for hush money given to Stormy Daniels carries legal considerations for the president. It also carries political considerations. How will the public respond to the president acknowledging that he bankrolled a payment to a porn star to buy her silence? NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House to talk about that. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: There's huge irony in here in all of this. I got to note. What began as an effort apparently to silence Trump's accuser has wound up giving her a huge megaphone. I mean, what are the politics of this? How is the White House playing this?
HORSLEY: You're absolutely right. You know, since the payoff was first reported by The Wall Street Journal back in January, this story has practically been on continuous loop on cable TV. The supposed hush money in effect just bought Daniels and her attorney a $130,000 soapbox.
But when you look at the polling numbers, it's hard to see that it's really made a lot of difference. The president's approval rating in the Gallup poll right now is around 42 percent. That's actually a little higher than it was when the story broke four months ago. And it's been bouncing around in a pretty narrow range. Rudy Giuliani explained that the payment to Daniels was supposed to prevent this from, say, coming out just on the eve of the last presidential debate. But, you know, the "Access Hollywood" tape came out on the eve of the second presidential debate. And...
KELLY: It sure did, yeah.
HORSLEY: While it made a lot of angst for Republicans, it didn't keep Trump out of the White House. Whenever questions of a sexual nature are raised in the White House Briefing Room, the answer we usually get from administration aides is, A, that the president denies these charges and, B, the people knew about all this in November of 2016 and Trump still got elected. Now, it's true they didn't know about Stormy Daniels thanks to the hush money and Michael Cohen. But they knew about a lot of this stuff, so maybe this doesn't really move the needle very much.
KELLY: But at a certain point, do the shifting explanations - because that is a fair characterization of how the White House and President Trump's lawyers have been changing the story on what exactly transpired here. At some point, does that start to dent President Trump's credibility?
HORSLEY: That's a good question because this does seem to be a case where Trump told reporters less than a month ago he knew nothing about the payment to Stormy Daniels. And now we have Rudy Giuliani revealing that in fact Trump was making regular monthly payments to Michael Cohen to cover this payment as well as other expenses. How do you square that circle? Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders' explanation, which people may or may not find persuasive, is that Trump knew he was making monthly payments to Cohen last year which added up to something like $460,000, but he didn't know when he spoke to reporters April 5 that more than a quarter of that money had gone to Stormy Daniels.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: This was information that the president didn't know at the time but eventually learned.
HORSLEY: Now, Sanders' own credibility could also take something of a hit here. She insists she only learned about Trump's payments to Michael Cohen when Giuliani talked about it on television last night.
KELLY: One assumes that the White House is ready to stop talking about this, to turn off this continuous Stormy Daniel (ph) loop you described on cable TV.
HORSLEY: Absolutely. I mean, the porn star and the president headline has been catnip for the tabloids. But, you know, the president would very much like to change the conversation. He is also wrestling with trade talks underway in Beijing right now. He is trying to prepare for a summit meeting with Kim Jong Un. He would welcome a change in subject. Here he is speaking at a National Day of Prayer ceremony in the White House Rose Garden this morning.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What a day, what a beautiful day. And our country is doing very well. You'll see some very good announcements very shortly.
HORSLEY: The president seemed to be hinting there at reports that three American prisoners in North Korea could be released ahead of his upcoming summit with Kim Jong Un. Spokeswoman Sanders wouldn't confirm that, but she did say if that release happens, it would be a sign of goodwill.
KELLY: That is NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thank you, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.