Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Tabloid publisher testifies he thought alleged affair would hurt Trump campaign By Reuters

Apr 25, 2024

By Jack Queen and Jody Godoy

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified at Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial on Thursday that he believed the story of a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump and sought to silence her for fear it would hurt Trump’s presidential bid.

“I believed the story was true, I believed it would be very embarrassing for himself and also his campaign,” Pecker testified.

Pecker, 72, is a key witness in the case against the former U.S. president, who is accused of falsifying business records to cover up a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an affair she said she had with Trump in 2006.

Pecker, who has not been charged with a crime, testified on Tuesday that the Enquirer acquired former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of Trump’s alleged sexual misbehavior but never published it – a practice known as “catch and kill” – in order to help Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.

On Thursday, he said that after McDougal told his editor that she had a yearlong affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007, he advised Trump to buy her silence.

“He said, ‘What do you think I should do?’ I said, ‘I think you should buy the story and take it off the market,'” Pecker testified.

In the end, the National Enquirer ended up footing the bill, rather than Trump. The paper’s parent company, American Media, admitted in 2018 that it paid her $150,000. Her story was never published.

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McDougal is expected to testify later in the trial, along with Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who says he arranged the Daniels payment and was reimbursed by Trump.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts and denied having an affair with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. He has also denied having an affair with McDougal.

Hush money payments themselves are not illegal, and Trump’s lawyers have argued the Daniels payout was personal and unrelated to his campaign.

Prosecutors say that the payment was a campaign expense that should have been disclosed and that Trump’s arrangement with the Enquirer deceived voters by suppressing stories of alleged extramarital affairs at a time when he faced accusations of sexual misbehavior.

The trial is the first of a former U.S. president and carries political risks for Trump as he prepares for a November election rematch with President Joe Biden and fends off three other criminal indictments, to which he has also pleaded not guilty.

On Wednesday, he was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in an Arizona criminal case that charges 18 people with attempting to overturn his defeat in that state in the 2020 election.

Also on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard Trump’s arguments that he is immune from prosecution for actions taken as president, an appeal that has held up his prosecution on charges related to his attempts to reverse his 2020 election defeat.

Trump is required to be present for the New York trial and Justice Juan Merchan denied his request to attend the Supreme Court arguments.

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“We have a big case today, the judge isn’t allowing me to go,” Trump said while visiting a construction site on Thursday morning.

Trump has complained that the trial, which is expected to last through May, is preventing him from campaigning though he uses his courthouse appearances as mini-stump speeches.

Merchan has imposed a limited gag order on Trump that bars him from publicly attacking witnesses, jurors and other people close to the case, including court staff and their families.

Prosecutors on Thursday asked Merchan to hold Trump in contempt of court for violating that order, mentioning four recent statements that criticized Cohen, the judge and the jury.

Prosecutors have also asked Merchan to fine Trump $1,000 apiece for 10 social media posts they said violated the order.

Merchan did not rule on their request.

Trump has said the gag order violates his right to free speech and says he is being treated unfairly by Merchan.

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