Trump marks National Day of Prayer amid hush money scandal

President Donald Trump speaks during a "National Day of Prayer" event in the Rose Garden of the White House, Thursday, May 3, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump speaks during a "National Day of Prayer" event in the Rose Garden of the White House, Thursday, May 3, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump walks out to speak during a "National Day of Prayer" event in the Rose Garden of the White House, Thursday, May 3, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump celebrated the National Day of Prayer by announcing a White House initiative that he said would underpin policies recognizing the "vital role" of religion in the country. "America is a nation of believers," he said.

Shortly before the Rose Garden event Thursday, Trump acknowledged reimbursing his personal attorney for hush money the lawyer paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. The White House says Trump denies that accusation, and Trump had claimed no knowledge of the financial arrangement.

Trump tweeted before the faith event that the payments just before the 2016 election "had nothing to do with the campaign."

The president did not address the issue in his public remarks, focusing instead on the power of prayer as a centerpiece of American life.

"Faith has shaped our families and it's shaped our communities," he said. "It's inspired our commitment to charity and our defense of liberty, and faith has forged the identity and the destiny of this great nation that we all love."

Trump outlined steps by the administration to safeguard religious freedom and pledged to continue doing so.

He signed an executive order creating a "White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative" that will, among other things, make recommendations on policies that affect faith-based and community programs. Trump said the new office will help ensure such groups have "equal access" to government money and the "equal right to exercise their deeply held beliefs."

"We take this step because we know, that in solving the many, many problems and our great challenges, faith is more powerful than government and nothing is more powerful than God," Trump said.

Members of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where more than two dozen worshippers were killed in a November 2017 shooting, attended the event.

As Trump mingled with guests on his way back to the Oval Office, a reporter shouted to the president, "Why are you changing your story on Stormy Daniels?" Someone in the audience shouted back, "Shame on you!"

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Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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