MANHATTAN (CN) – Thrusting President Donald Trump’s long history of favorable National Enquirer coverage into the spotlight, several news outlets reported Thursday that federal prosecutors have given immunity to the CEO of the tabloid’s publisher.
In addition to his role as CEO of American Media Inc., David Pecker is a longtime friend of Trump’s. His name was hinted in federal court this week as part of the plea deal taken by another Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
In copping to a campaign-finance violation and seven other felonies Tuesday, Cohen said he arranged payouts ahead of the 2016 presidential election at Trump’s direction to suppress former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, from talking publicly about prior affairs with Trump.
While Cohen paid Clifford $130,000 directly, he said he worked with American Media to arrange the reported $150,000 payout to McDougal.
Citing anonymous sources, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pecker met with prosecutors this morning to discuss the allegations.
Neither the criminal information against Cohen nor the lawyer’s plea agreement name any of these individuals directly, but Pecker fits the bill for the unnamed corporate chairman and chief executive “offered to help deal with negative stories about relationships with women, by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.”
The plea says this executive also “agreed to keep Cohen apprised of any such negative stories.”
Representatives for Pecker and American Media did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday afternoon.
The report of Pecker’s immunity deal broke Thursday after Fox News aired the first sit-down interview with Trump since the White House suffered the twin bombshells Tuesday of Cohen pleading guilty and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort being found guilty of financial crimes.
Talking with one of the hosts of “Fox & Friends,” a morning show that Trump frequently praises on his Twitter account, insisted that the hush money came from him personally, not from the campaign.
“They came from me,” he said. “And I tweeted about it. But they did not come out of the campaign.”
Also this morning, Trump continued his attack against the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose office initiated both the Cohen and Manafort prosecutions. “NO COLLUSION – RIGGED WITCH HUNT!” Trump tweeted.
Pecker became chairman, president and CEO of American Media Inc. in May 1999, when he purchased the company along with Evercore Partners.
The publisher disclosed debts of more than $1 billion when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010.
In addition to the National Enquire, American Media’s owns a portfolio of entertainment tabloid magazines including the US Weekly, In Touch and Star.
McDougal, the former Playboy model who says she had an affair with Trump, is on the cover of September’s issue of Men’s Journal, which is also owned by American Media.
According to his criminal complaint, where the names of the parties are shielded, Cohen agreed with with Pecker in August 2016 and September 2016 to assign the rights to the nondisclosure portion of AMI’s agreement with a woman alleged to have an had affair with Trump for $125,000.
“On or about August 5, 2016, Corporation-1 entered into an agreement with Woman-1 to acquire her ‘limited life rights’ to the story of her relationship with ‘any then-married man,’ in exchange for $150,000 and a commitment to feature her on two magazine covers and publish over one hundred magazine articles authored by her,” the complaint states. “Despite the cover and article features to the agreement, its principal purpose, as understood by those involved, including MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, was to suppress Woman-1’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.”
Cohen then incorporated a shell entity called Resolution Consultants LLC for this transaction, which was signed by Cohen and Pecker.
“From in or about June 2016, up to and including in or about October 2016, in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere, MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, knowingly and willfully caused a corporation to make a contribution and expenditure, aggregating $25,000 and more during the 2016 calendar year, to the campaign of a candidate for president of the United States, to wit, COHEN caused Corporation-1 to make and advance a $150, 000 payment to Woman-1, including through the promise of reimbursement, so as to ensure that Woman-1 did not publicize damaging allegations before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election.”