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Business News/ News / World/  Tabloid CEO Says He Killed Negative Stories on Trump Affairs
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Tabloid CEO Says He Killed Negative Stories on Trump Affairs

The former head of the company that owned the National Enquirer told a New York jury about how he killed stories about Donald Trump’s extramarital affairs to boost his 2016 presidential campaign.

Tabloid CEO Says He Killed Negative Stories on Trump AffairsPremium
Tabloid CEO Says He Killed Negative Stories on Trump Affairs

(Bloomberg) -- The former head of the company that owned the National Enquirer told a New York jury about how he killed stories about Donald Trump’s extramarital affairs to boost his 2016 presidential campaign.

David Pecker, the ex-chief executive officer of American Media Inc., said Tuesday that he agreed to use his tabloids and magazines to support Trump and punish his rivals. Pecker also described the frantic efforts to buy and bury the story of a former Playboy Playmate, Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump. 

Pecker was the first witness in the historic trial of the former president, offering an inside view of the seamy underbelly of the celebrity tabloid business, where sources are paid for stories. The testimony backed up allegations by prosecutors that Trump attempted to interfere with the 2016 election by keeping voters in the dark about his womanizing.

The 34-count indictment alleges that Trump falsified business records to cover up a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to stifle her claims of a sexual liaison. 

“In a presidential campaign, I was the person who thought a lot of women would come out to sell their stories because Mr. Trump was well-known as the most eligible bachelor and dated the most beautiful women," Pecker, 72, testified in Manhattan state court.

Pecker described a 2015 meeting at Trump Tower that included Trump and two of his closest allies at the time, Michael Cohen — then his lawyer and now the prosecution’s star witness — and his onetime aide Hope Hicks.

“I said what I would do is publish positive stories about Mr. Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponents," Pecker said. “I would be your eyes and ears."

Pecker said he agreed to buy negative stories about Trump from sources who signed nondisclosure agreements and then not publish the accounts – a process known as “catch and kill." 

Prosecutors say AMI paid $150,000 to McDougal to silence her account of an affair with Trump, and $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman who claimed Trump fathered an out-of-wedlock child.

Pecker recounted that Enquirer editor Dylan Howard told him in June 2016 about a story he heard that McDougal had a sexual relationship with Trump for a year. He spoke frequently with Cohen, who initially said it was “absolutely untrue." He spoke directly to Trump, who said that type of story “always gets out." 

“I made the decision to buy this story because of the potential embarrassment it would have to the campaign and Mr. Trump," said Pecker, who will resume his testimony on Thursday. 

In 2018, the US agreed to not prosecute AMI in exchange for the company cooperating with investigators. Under the deal, AMI admitted it worked with the campaign to kill stories “about the presidential candidate’s relationships with women."

Earlier Tuesday, Justice Juan Merchan looked likely to hold Trump in contempt of court for a string of social-media posts about Cohen and Daniels, including one where he called them “sleaze balls." The judge called Trump’s lawyers arguments on the issue “silly."

‘The Complete Story’

Pecker also testified that the Enquirer ran unflattering stories about Trump’s Republican rivals, including Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio.

“Michael Cohen would call me and say, ‘We would like you to run a negative article’" on a candidate, and would send him derogatory information. “That was the basis of our story and we would embellish it," Pecker said.

Jurors saw articles with headlines like: “The Complete Story! Ted Cruz Sex Scandal—5 Secret Mistresses."

“When we were preparing an article, let’s say for Ted Cruz, we’d communicate with Michael Cohen and send him the article before it was published to show the direction we were going," Pecker said. “He would comment and add information."

Pecker recounted his enthusiasm for publishing stories about Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, being an “enabler of Bill Clinton’s womanizing." He said Trump’s victory over Clinton was a “win-win" for both Trump and the Enquirer.

Pecker said both Trump and Cohen were “pleased" with the arrangement.

None of these agreements were put into writing, said Pecker. “It was just an agreement among friends," he said.

In one instance, AMI agreed to pay $30,000 to buy and bury the story of the former doorman, Dino Sajudin, who claimed Trump fathered a child with a former housekeeper. Ultimately, Pecker concluded the story was untrue. 

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked why Pecker would pay $30,000 for a false story.

“Because if the story got out to another publication, it would have been very embarrassing for the campaign," Pecker said. 

(Updates with details of McDougal agreement)

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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Published: 24 Apr 2024, 01:19 AM IST
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