Tabloid publisher testifies he cancelled deal for Trump to buy story of alleged affair

Pecker is a key witness in the case against the former US president, who is accused of falsifying business records to cover up hush-money payment

By Reuters

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Former US president Donald Trump watches as prosecutor Joshua Steinglass questions David Pecker during Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City on Thursday in this courtroom sketch. — Reuters
Former US president Donald Trump watches as prosecutor Joshua Steinglass questions David Pecker during Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City on Thursday in this courtroom sketch. — Reuters

Published: Thu 25 Apr 2024, 9:24 PM

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified at Donald Trump's criminal trial on Thursday that he worked out a deal that would allow Trump to buy the silence of a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with him, but called it off.

Pecker, 72, said he signed an agreement with Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to assign the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal's story to a shell company that would hide the fact that Trump was paying for it. He 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,'" Pecker testified.

"He was very angry, very upset, screaming, basically, at me," Pecker said of Cohen.


Pecker is a key witness in the case against the former US president, who is accused of falsifying business records to cover up a hush-money payment to another woman who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump, porn star Stormy Daniels.

Pecker testified that he told Cohen that Daniels was looking to sell her story in the weeks before the November 2016 election. He said he was frustrated that the Enquirer's parent company, American Media, had already paid thousands of dollars to bury other stories that were unflattering to Trump.

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

Pecker said Cohen pressed American Media to buy Daniels' story, but Pecker testified he did not want to be involved with a porn star.

Prosecutors say Pecker, who has not been charged with a crime, engaged in a conspiracy with Trump and Cohen to corrupt the 2016 election by suppressing unflattering stories that might hurt Trump's candidacy.

Pecker testified that after McDougal told his editor that she had a yearlong affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007, he advised Trump to buy her silence.

Pecker said he told Cohen he did not want the Enquirer to pay for the story, as it had already paid $30,000 to buy the silence of a Trump Tower doorman who claimed Trump had fathered a child of out wedlock, which turned out not to be true.

He said American Media paid McDougal after Cohen promised Trump would reimburse the company.

Pecker said Cohen set up a shell company to disguise any payment from Trump's company, before Pecker backed out of the deal.

McDougal's story about the affair was never published - a practice known as "catch and kill" that is considered unethical by mainstream journalism outlets.

Nevertheless, the Wall Street Journal published a story four days before the election revealing that American Media had bought McDougal's story.

"Donald Trump was very upset, saying, 'How could this happen, I thought you had this under control,'" Pecker testified.

McDougal is expected to testify later in the trial.

Cohen is also expected to be a prominent witness. He has said he arranged a $130,000 payment to Daniels to keep quiet about a liaison she says she had with Trump in 2006. Prosecutors say Trump illegally falsified business records by disguising his reimbursement payments to Cohen as legal fees.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts and denied having sex with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. He has also denied having an affair with McDougal.

Hush money payments themselves are not illegal, and 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 Trump’s arrangement with the Enquirer deceived voters by suppressing stories of alleged extramarital affairs at a time when he faced accusations of sexual misbehavior.

'ELECTORAL FRAUD'

Pecker testified that he did not notify federal election officials of the McDougal payment, even though he know that campaign expenditures made in coordination 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," Howard said in a text message presented by prosecutors. Lawyers argued whether that could be admitted as evidence.

The trial is the first of a former U.S. president and carries political risks for 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 Trump watched Pecker testify in New York, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Trump's arguments that he is immune from prosecution for actions taken as president. Justice Juan Merchan denied Trump's request to attend the Supreme Court arguments.

"We have a big case today, the judge isn't allowing me to go," Trump said while visiting a construction site on Thursday morning.

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

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

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


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