Tabloid boss David Pecker details plot to kill Trump stories about love child and Playboy model affair

A tabloid publisher’s secret agreement with Donald Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen helped bury politically compromising stories that the then-presidential candidate had allegedly fathered an illegitimate child and had an affair with a former Playboy model, jurors heard in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday.

In his second day of testimony in the former president’s so-called hush money trial, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker outlined what he called a “mutually beneficial” plan to keep the supermarket tabloid loaded with stories that would boost Mr Trump’s election chances – and ensure “negative” stories never saw the light of day.

As part of the arrangement, Mr Pecker testified that he would tip off Mr Trump’s then-personal attorney Cohen to potentially damaging stories about Mr Trump – particularly those involving women.

The former American Media Inc CEO joined Cohen and Mr Trump during a now-infamous meeting in August 2015 at Trump Tower in Manhattan, where he was asked “what can I do and what could my magazines do to help the campaign,” Mr Pecker recalled on Tuesday.

“I said what I would do is I would run or publish positive stories about Mr Trump and publish negative stories about his opponents,” he said. “I would also be the eyes and ears.”

That included sensational and gossip-driven coverage of Bill and Hillary Clinton, admittedly “embellished” pieces attacking Mr Trump’s Republican rivals, and headlines that boosted Mr Trump’s health.

Stories attacking Mr Trump’s rivals came from Cohen, who would send information about Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio, “and that was the basis for our story, and we would embellish it from there,” Mr Pecker said.

But when it came to any tips about women selling stories about Mr Trump, Mr Pecker “would notify Michael Cohen, and he would be able to have them killed in the magazine, or not be published, or somebody would have to purchase them,” he said.

That scheme is central to prosecutors’ case that Mr Trump was desperate to keep bad press away from voters, culminating in an attempt to keep allegations of an affair with an adult film star out of the headlines in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape one month before Election Day.

A courtroom sketch depicts former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testifying in Donald Trump’s hush money reial on 23 April. (REUTERS)
A courtroom sketch depicts former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testifying in Donald Trump’s hush money reial on 23 April. (REUTERS)

Mr Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to allegedly cover up reimbursements totalling $130,000 to his former attorney, who paid for the silence of adult film star Stormy Daniels to prevent the release of potentially politically damaging stories of Mr Trump’s alleged affair in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Trump doorman was paid $30,000 to bury ‘embarrassing’ story

Mr Pecker testified that he arranged $30,000 in November 2015 to buy a false story from a former Trump Tower doorman Dino Sajudi who claimed that Mr Trump “fathered an illegitimate girl with a maid.”

“I thought it was very important that [Mr Sajudi] wouldn’t be shopping the story to other media outlets,” he said. “If the story was true, and I published it, it would probably be the biggest sale of the National Enquirer since the death of Elvis Presley.”

But if the phoney story turned out to be true, Mr Pecker said he would have published the story “shortly after it was verified” – but not until after the 2016 election.

If the story “got out in another publication or media outlet, it would have been very embarrassing for the campaign,” Mr Pecker told the court. “I made the decision to buy the story because of the potential embarrassment to the campaign and Mr Trump.”

An amendment to the November 2015 agreement – a copy of which was shown in court – notes that the exclusivity period for the rights to the story “extended in perpetuity and shall not expire.”

It also added that if the source breaches the agreement, he would have to pay $1m to Mr Pecker’s company.

“It was basically a lever over him to make sure that wouldn’t happen,” Mr Pecker said.

Donald Trump sits at the defence table in a Manhattan criminal courtroom on 23 April. (Getty Images)
Donald Trump sits at the defence table in a Manhattan criminal courtroom on 23 April. (Getty Images)

Mr Sajudin was ultimately released from the contract via email on 9 December, 2016 – more than a year after the initial agreement and one month after Mr Trump’s election victory.

Trump told Pecker ‘I don’t buy stories’

National Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard received a tip in June 2016 that a Playboy model “is trying to sell a story about a relationship with Donald Trump,” according to Mr Pecker.

“I called Michael Cohen and I told him exactly what Dylan told me about this Playboy model,” he testified before the trial adjourned on Tuesday afternoon.

But Cohen was sceptical, he said.

Mr Pecker said he told Cohen that the story seemed “a little different” than the doorman’s story, which was bunk.

“I think we should vet this story out first,” Mr Pecker said.

Mr Trump himself also asked him what he thought of Karen McDougal’s story, according to Mr Pecker’s testimony.

“Mr Trump says to me, he says, ‘Look ... I don’t buy any stories. Anytime you do anything like this, it always gets out,’” according to Mr Pecker. “I said I still believe we should take this story off the market … He said, ‘Let me think about it and I’ll have Michael Cohen call you back in a few days.’”

Cohen seemed “very agitated” during that time, according to Mr Pecker. “He kept on calling and each time he called he seemed more anxious,” he said.

The trial adjourned before prosecutors could ask about the agreement Mr Pecker drafted with Ms McDougal to buy her silence – and the $150,000 she was paid for it.

The trial will resume on 25 April.