President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended Fox News star Bill O'Reilly, whose own network is reported to have paid out millions of dollars to multiple women who claim he sexually harassed them, describing the embattled news host as "a good person" who had done nothing wrong.
The comments, made just days after the president declared April "National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month," came in an Oval Office interview with two reporters from the New York Times.
“I think [O'Reilly is] a person I know well — he is a good person,” Trump said.
More than 20 advertisers have pulled commercials from O'Reilly's show, after the New York Times reported Saturday that Fox News had made payments totalling about $13 million to five women who accused the television star of acting inappropriately or sexually harassing them.
O'Reilly has denied any wrongdoing, insisting he is a target from women seeking to profit off his fame, and maintained he had to "put to rest any controversies to spare [his] children."
The president, who last year settled a fraud cause involving Trump University for $25 million, told the Times that O'Reilly was wrong to settle the lawsuits.
“I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Trump told the newspaper. “Because you should have taken it all the way.
"I don’t think Bill did anything wrong," he said, without offering any evidence for his belief.
It is highly unusual for a sitting president to weigh in publicly on legal claims made by private citizens, particularly sexual assault allegations.
The comments came less than a week after the president spoke of "supporting victims" when he declared April "National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month."
"In the face of sexual violence, we must commit to providing meaningful support and services for victims and survivors in the United States and around the world," he declared.
Trump — who once bragged about being able to "grab [women] by the pussy" because of his fame, who allegedly walked in on teenage beauty queens as they were changing, and who repeatedly made vulgar comments about women's appearance while on the radio — has himself denied claims by at least 13 women who say he made unwanted sexual advances.
Last July, Trump also defended former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes after he resigned when he was accused of harassing multiple women.
"I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he's helped them," Trump told NBC's Meet the Press. "And when they write books that are fairly recently released, and they say wonderful things about him. And now, all of a sudden, they're saying these horrible things about him.
"It's very sad because he's a very good person," Trump said of his friend Ailes. "I've always found him to be just a very, very good person. And, by the way, a very, very talented person. Look what he's done. So, I feel very badly."
The president's defense of O'Reilly came in an interview in which he also accused former national security adviser Susan Rice of a crime for seeking the identifies of Trump associates mentioned in intelligence reports. However, he declined to offer any evidence to support his view.
Rice has said she asked for the identities of US citizens mentioned in intelligence reports on Russian meddling in the election, but has denied leaking their identities to the press.
A spokesperson for Rice told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, "I'm not going to dignify the president's ludicrous charge with a comment."
Trump told the Times he would offer more evidence for his claim "at the right time."
Despite agreeing to grant the exclusive interview to the New York Times, the president has repeatedly bashed the newspaper as "failing" and a peddler of "fake news" that is critical of his administration.