Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan Criminal Courthouse, after his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury following a probe into hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels, in New York City, U.S., April 4, 2023.
Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg unveiled new details Tuesday about the role the National Enquirer’s then-publisher played in boosting former President Donald Trump’s winning 2016 campaign.
Bragg’s office outlined the broader effort carried out by the tabloid’s previous publisher American Media Inc. as it announced 34 felony charges against the ex-president over his alleged role in a scheme that directed hush money payments to two women before the 2016 election.
Bragg alleges within his statement of facts that AMI, which was run at the time by Trump ally David Pecker, had an extensive role in helping the former president beyond just suppressing negative stories about him — including ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal’s allegation that she had an affair with Trump.
At a meeting in Trump Tower in August 2015, months after Trump declared his candidacy for president, Pecker “agreed to help with the Defendant’s campaign, saying that he would act as the ‘eyes and ears’ for the campaign by looking out for negative stories about the Defendant and alerting Lawyer A before the stories were published,” Bragg’s office said. Pecker allegedly said at the time that he would also “publish negative stories about the Defendant’s competitors for the election,” according to the DA.
The Trump, AMI and Pecker alliance continued through the 2016 election and the former president’s inauguration, according to Bragg’s investigation. The probe revealed that after the company and Pecker helped Trump, the newly elected president invited the then-media CEO to the inauguration in 2017 and later that year to the White House.
The defendant in this case is Trump and the lawyer was Michael Cohen, who made hush money payments to former porn star Stormy Daniels and helped facilitate a payment to McDougal. McDougal received $150,000 from AMI.
Outside of the McDougal payment, the tabloid suppressed or published various stories related to Trump or his opponents during the election. The Manhattan DA revealed new examples of how the relationship worked among Pecker, AMI and Trump.
The statement of facts says that in 2015, Pecker was informed a “former Trump Tower doorman was trying to sell information regarding a child that the Defendant had allegedly fathered out of wedlock.”
AMI, allegedly at Pecker’s direction, then “negotiated and signed an agreement to pay the Doorman $30,000 to acquire exclusive rights to the story,” according to the DA’s office. “AMI falsely characterized this payment in AMI’s books and records, including in its general ledger. AMI purchased the information from the Doorman without fully investigating his claims, but the AMI CEO directed that the deal take place because of his agreement with the Defendant [Trump] and Lawyer A [Cohen].”
Even after AMI determined that the story by the doorman wasn’t true, the former Trump Tower employee still wasn’t allowed out of the agreement, the DA’s office said.
“When AMI later concluded that the story was not true, the AMI CEO wanted to release the Doorman from the agreement,” the office said. “However, Lawyer A instructed the AMI CEO not to release the Doorman until after the presidential election, and the AMI CEO complied with that instruction because of his agreement with the Defendant and Lawyer A.”
Bragg did not offer any examples of specific stories the National Enquirer published about Trump’s opponents.
In one notorious case, the National Enquirer published a false article linking the father of then-Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz to Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated former President John F. Kennedy.
Cruz has vehemently denied any ties between his father and Oswald — links that Trump alleged with no evidence as he defeated Cruz in the GOP primary. Trump went on to defeat Hillary Clinton durng the 2016 general lection for president.
The National Enquirer was sold this year to VVIP Ventures. Pecker stepped down as the CEO of American Media in 2020, and the parent company itself was taken over by Accelerate360, a logistics firm based in Smyrna, Georgia.