Trump trial: Tabloid publisher says he helped presidential candidacy

National Enquirer publisher David Pecker says he used tabloid to suppress stories that might have hurt Trump’s 2016 election bid

The first witness in Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, testified on Tuesday that he used his tabloid to suppress stories that might have hurt Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.

Mr Pecker (72) testified in a New York court that the Enquirer paid two people who were peddling stories of Mr Trump’s sexual misbehaviour but never published them – a practice known as “catch and kill”.

“When someone’s running for public office like this, it is very common for these women to call up a magazine like the National Enquirer to try to sell their stories,” Mr Pecker testified.

Mr Pecker said the decision to bury the stories followed a 2015 meeting at which he told Mr Trump that the Enquirer would publish favourable stories about the billionaire candidate and keep an eye out for people selling stories that might hurt him. He said he told an editor to keep the arrangement secret.


Mr Pecker said the Enquirer paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story of a sexual relationship with Mr Trump in 2006 and 2007. He said he bought the story after Mr Trump refused to do so himself.

“He said that anytime you do anything like this it always gets out,” Mr Pecker said.

The Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, said in 2018 it paid $150,000 for the story. Mr Trump has denied having an affair with Ms McDougal.

The tabloid also paid $30,000 for a story peddled by Trump Tower doorman Dino Sajudin, who claimed Mr Trump fathered a child with a maid who worked for him. The story turned out not to be true, Mr Pecker said.

Both payments far exceeded the amounts the paper typically paid for stories, he said.

“I made the decision to buy the story because of the potential embarrassment it would have to the campaign and Mr Trump,” Mr Pecker said.

He is expected to testify further when the trial resumes on Thursday.

Prosecutors say Mr Pecker’s actions helped Mr Trump deceive voters in the 2016 election by burying stories of alleged extramarital affairs at a time when he already faced multiple accusations of sexual misbehaviour.

They have charged Mr Trump with criminally falsifying business records to cover up a $130,000 payment to buy the silence of adult film star Stormy Daniels, who says they had a sexual encounter 10 years earlier.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies having an encounter with Daniels. His lawyers argue that Mr Trump did not commit any crimes and acted only to protect his reputation.

The case may be the only one of Mr Trump’s four criminal prosecutions to go to trial before the Republican’s November 5th election rematch with Democratic president Joe Biden.

A guilty verdict would not bar Mr Trump from taking office but could hurt his candidacy.

Mr Pecker’s testimony came after a hearing to consider prosecutors’ request to fine Mr Trump $10,000 for violating a gag order prohibiting him from criticising witnesses, court officials and their relatives.

Judge Juan Merchan said he would not immediately rule on that request, but he appeared unmoved by Mr Trump’s defence lawyer Todd Blanche’s arguments that Mr Trump was responding to political attacks, not intimidating witnesses.

“You’ve presented nothing,” the judge said. “I’ve asked you eight or nine times, show me the exact post he was responding to. You’ve not even been able to do that once.”

The judge added: “I have to tell you right now, you’re losing all credibility with the court.”

After the session, Mr Trump repeated his claim that the gag order violated his constitutional free speech rights.

“This is a kangaroo court and the judge should recuse himself!” Mr Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.

New York prosecutor Christopher Conroy said Mr Trump had run afoul of the order, pointing to an April 10th Truth Social post that called Ms Daniels and Mr Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen “sleazebags”. Both are expected to testify in the first criminal trial of a former US president.

Mr Conroy said other posts had led to media coverage that had prompted a juror last week to withdraw over privacy concerns.

“He knows what he’s not allowed to do and he does it anyway,” Mr Conroy said of Mr Trump. “His disobedience of the order is wilful. It’s intentional.”

The $10,000 fine sought by Mr Conroy would be a relatively small penalty for Mr Trump, who has posted $266.6 million in bonds as he appeals civil judgments in two other cases.

Mr Conroy said he was not at this point asking the judge to send Mr Trump to jail for up to 30 days, as New York law allows.

“The defendant seems to be angling for that,” Mr Conroy said.

Mr Blanche said Trump’s posts were responses to political attacks by Mr Cohen and not related to his former lawyer’s expected testimony.

“He’s allowed to respond to political attacks,” Mr Blanche said. – Reuters