Tabloid publisher says he wrangled with Trump over who should buy stories

Prosecutors have charged Trump with falsifying business records to cover up affairs, which they say corrupted the 2016 election

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified at Donald Trump’s criminal trial on Thursday that he wrangled with Mr Trump and his former lawyer ahead of the 2016 presidential election over who should buy the silence of women who said they had sexual encounters with him.

Mr Pecker’s second day of testimony provided further evidence that he worked as Trump’s “eyes and ears” to suppress stories which could have hurt the businessman-turned-politician’s presidential bid at a time when he was facing multiple accusations of sexual misbehaviour.

New York prosecutors have charged Mr Trump with falsifying business records to cover up that activity, which they say corrupted the election. Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty. Mr Pecker does not face charges.

Mr Pecker (72), testified that American Media, the Enquirer’s owner, paid to buy the stories of former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2006 and 2007, and a former Trump Tower doorman who said Trump fathered an illegitimate child, which turned out not to be true.


The tabloid did not run either story but ensured that rivals would not publish them either – a practice known as “catch and kill.” Mr Pecker said the newspaper spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to buy stories involving prominent people, including film star Arnold Schwarzenegger and golfer Tiger Woods.

Mr Pecker said he alerted Mr Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen when he heard that adult film star Stormy Daniels was looking to sell her story of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump for $120,000 in the weeks before the election.

Mr Pecker said he was not interested in paying Ms Daniels at that point because he had already paid for the other stories.

“I thought it should come off the market, and if anyone was going to buy it, Michael Cohen and Donald Trump should buy it,” Mr Pecker said.”

Mr Pecker said Mr Cohen pressed him to buy Ms Daniels’s story, but Mr Pecker testified he did not want to be involved with a porn star.

Mr Cohen has said he ultimately paid Ms Daniels $130,000 to stay silent and was reimbursed $420,000 by Mr Trump after the election. Mr Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records for labelling his payments to Mr Cohen as legal fees.

Before that, Mr Pecker testified, American Media bought Ms McDougal’s story and signed an agreement to use a shell company to secretly sell it on to Mr Trump.

Mr Pecker said he called off the deal after speaking with a company lawyer.

“Michael Cohen said, ‘The boss is going to be very angry with you.’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not going forward, the deal is off,’” Mr Pecker testified.

“He was very angry, very upset, screaming, basically, at me,” Mr Pecker said of Mr Cohen.

Mr Pecker said Mr Trump was angered when Mr Pecker allowed Ms McDougal to speak to news media after the Wall Street Journal revealed the hush money deal.

“He was very upset. He couldn’t understand why I did it,” Mr Pecker testified.

Ms McDougal is expected to testify later in the trial.

Mr Trump has denied having sex with Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and Ms McDougal.

Hush money payments themselves are not illegal, and Mr Trump’s lawyers have argued the Daniels payout was personal and unrelated to his campaign.

Prosecutors say the payment was a campaign expense that should have been disclosed, and that Mr Trump’s arrangement with the Enquirer deceived voters by suppressing stories of alleged extramarital affairs at a time when he faced accusations of sexual misbehaviour.

Mr Pecker testified that he did not notify federal election officials of the McDougal payment, even though he knew that campaign expenditures made in co-ordination with candidates must be reported.

The Enquirer’s editor, Dylan Howard, appeared to be aware of the conflict as well. “At least if he wins, I’ll be pardoned for electoral fraud,” Mr Howard said in a text message prosecutors have asked to show jurors.

American Media admitted to campaign finance violations in 2018 in a deal with the Justice Department that averted prosecution and required them to co-operate with the investigation.

The trial is the first of a former US president and carries political risks for Mr Trump as he prepares for a November election rematch with President Joe Biden and fends off three other criminal indictments, to which he has also pleaded not guilty.

As Mr Trump watched Mr Pecker testify in New York, the US supreme court heard Mr Trump’s arguments that he is immune from prosecution for actions taken as president. Justice Juan Merchan denied Mr Trump’s request to attend the supreme court arguments.

Judge Merchan has imposed a limited gag order on Mr Trump that bars him from publicly attacking witnesses, jurors and other people close to the case, including court staff and their families.

Judge Merchan has not yet ruled on a request by prosecutors to punish Mr Trump for violating that order.

Mr Trump has said the gag order violates his right to free speech and says he is being treated unfairly by the judge. – Reuters