WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors said National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, admitted that it made a $150,000 payment to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal “to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations” about Donald Trump in advance of the 2016 presidential election.
AMI’s admission could bolster any case prosecutors make against Trump for violating campaign finance law, in that the publisher is acknowledging that the payments were made to conceal embarrassing information from voters. McDougal claimed that she had an affair with him, a fact that could have had an impact on his electoral chances in 2016.
Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, has already implicated the president in the hush-money payments, and on Wednesday was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to a series of charges. According to previous court filings, prosecutors said that Cohen and worked with an AMI editor to arrange the payments, which amounted to AMI’s purchase of McDougal’s story rights to prevent other outlets from publishing those details.
During the campaign, Trump was friends with its chairman and CEO, David Pecker. That was reflected in the nature of National Enquirer’s coverage, which was almost universally positive toward Trump and negative toward his rivals.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York said it had reached a “non-prosecution agreement” with AMI, and that as part of it, “AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election. AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.”
AMI faced legal liability, as corporations are prohibited from coordinating political expenditures with candidates and campaigns. Prosecutors said that AMI has cooperated with the U.S. Attorney and the FBI and has agreed to continue to do so.
The non-prosecution agreement with AMI laid out how AMI offered to tip Trump’s campaign off to potential damaging stories.
In an August, 2015 meeting, Pecker met with Cohen and “at least one other member of the campaign” and “offered to help deal with negative stories about the presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided,” according to a “statement of admitted facts” attached to the non-prosecution agreement. The Wall Street Journal reported in November that Trump was present at such a meeting.
Cohen offered to reimburse the publisher for the payment, with a plan to transfer McDougal’s rights to a shell company but Pecker called off.
Part of the deal with McDougal was for her to also write for AMI to publish some of her articles, which they did in OK! Magazine and Star, and she also was featured on the cover of Muscle & Fitness Her’s and in Radar Online. “The publication of these articles was intended, at least in part, to keep the model from commenting publicly about her story and her agreement with AMI,” according to the statement of admitted facts.
According to the Wall Street Journal, AMI declined to buy the story of Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who also claimed to have sexual relations with Trump. Instead, Cohen negotiated directly with her attorneys to arrange for payments.