Late last month, CNN released a recording of then-candidate Donald Trump and his then-attorney Michael Cohen discussing a deal to acquire the rights to former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal’s story of her alleged affair with the future president. Trump ally and National Enquirer owner David Pecker had purchased the story in August 2016 in an effort to bury — or “catch and kill” — the juicy piece of dirt on his longtime friend. But the McDougal story was only part of a trove of damaging Trump material possessed by Pecker. The Associated Press reported last week that the media executive even kept the stories in a literal safe to prevent them from seeing the light of day. According to the New York Times, Trump and Cohen’s pre-election discussion wasn’t just about the McDougal story; they wanted everything Pecker had on the future president.
According to the Times, the impetus to buy the sensitive Trump stories owned by American Media, the Enquirer‘s parent company, was a concern over what would become of them should Pecker leave the company. Or, as Trump put it during his discussion with Cohen, “Maybe he gets hit by a truck.” If a less-loyal executive were to take Pecker’s place, there wouldn’t have been anything preventing them from publishing the mountain of dirt that reportedly dated back to the 1980s.
Though it wasn’t confirmed until Thursday, Cohen suggested on the recording that the deal being discussed was for more than just the rights to McDougal’s story. “It’s all the stuff,” he said of what they were looking to acquire. Cohen also mentioned that he spoke with Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg about “how to set the whole thing up.” It was reported last week that federal prosecutors granted Weisselberg immunity in their investigation into the pre-election hush-money payments. Pecker is also reportedly cooperating with investigators. The deal to buy the stories was never consummated.
The president’s pre-election dealings were brought back into focus last week when Cohen pleaded guilty to a number of financial crimes, including two counts of campaign finance violations — one for the $130,000 payment he made to Stormy Daniels, and one for the $150,000 payment to American Media. Cohen testified on Tuesday that the payments were made at the direction Trump, implicating the president as an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
It’s unclear what has become of the backlog of damaging stories about Trump. As the Times notes, they could have been destroyed. They could also be in the hands of investigators. The paper notes that because Pecker prevented his employees from examining these old stories during the campaign, “the nation’s largest gossip publisher, did not play a role during the election year in vetting a presidential candidacy — Mr. Trump’s — made for the tabloids.”
Not everyone agrees.
A real scoop but NYT diminishes it by writing that upshot is AMI/National Enquirer "did not play a role during the election year in vetting a presidential candidacy."
They played a negative role: Catching and killing stories vacuumed up stories other outlets would have carried. https://t.co/n2x8o9znbe
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) August 30, 2018
As former Justice Department counsel Eric Columbus pointed out on Thursday, the paper’s influence on the election extended far beyond preventing damaging information about Trump from becoming public.
— Heather Timmons (@HeathaT) August 23, 2018
Though Trump would ultimately win the election, the Enquirer‘s smear campaign against Clinton wasn’t paying dividends for the struggling publication. The Associated Press reported on Thursday that American Media was floundering financially throughout the election.