MANHATTAN (CN) – A former Playboy model who says she had a 10-month affair with President Trump in 2006 brought a defamation suit Thursday, saying Fox News falsely accused her of trying to extort Trump to keep quiet.
Karen McDougal, 48, says the slander occurred in a segment on the network’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” program.
“Remember the facts of the story; these are undisputed,” Carlson told his 2.8 million viewers on Dec. 10, 2018, as quoted in McDougal’s suit.
“Two women [one of whom was McDougal] approached Donald Trump and threatened to ruin his career and humiliate his family if he doesn’t give them money,” Carlson continued. “Now that sounds like a classic case of extortion. Yet for whatever reason, Trump caves to it, and he directs Michael Cohen to pay the ransom.”
A photograph of McDougal appeared on the screen as Carlson spoke, according to the lawsuit, but her name was never uttered.
That she got $150,000 from Trump in the months before the 2016 election is undisputed. Represented by attorney Eric Bernstein, however, McDougal insists “the payment … had nothing to do with extortion.”
McDougal never even approached Trump, let alone threatened him, according to the complaint, which says her story is backed up by the president himself, his now-incarcerated former fixer Michael Cohen and David Pecker, the CEO of National Enquirer owner American Media Inc.
In the wake of Trump’s election, multiple criminal prosecutions have brought to light that Trump, Cohen and Pecker reached what is known as a “catch and kill” deal in 2015 by which Trump could buy the rights to potentially damaging stories set to run in the Enquirer.
McDougal notes that she sold AMI the rights to her story about “her relationship with ‘any then married man’” in exchange for $150,000.
“Cohen, AMI, and Pecker all agree and admitted to prosecutors that Trump directed Cohen to have McDougal paid $150,000 because Trump ‘was very concerned about how this would affect the election,’” the complaint states.
Fox called the claims “meritless” in an email Thursday.
Trump initially denied directing the payment to McDougal last year, only to be confronted with the release of a tape where Trump can be heard directing the payment.
“Most importantly and no matter which version of Trump’s statements one believes, Trump never once claimed that he was extorted by McDougal,” the complaint says.
A month after AMI paid McDougal $150,000, she says Pecker agreed to sell the rights to her story to Cohen for $125,000.
The invoice “falsely stated that the payment was … for advisory services,” according to the complaint.
Come October, however, “Pecker called Cohen and told him that the deal was off.”
McDougal says her tryst with Trump lasted about 10 months in 2006. During that time period, Trump’s wife, Melania, gave birth to their son Barron on March 20.
“Had Carlson done any investigation or responsible reporting or journalism, he would have easily discovered that what he and Fox News published about McDougal was and is demonstrably false,” the complaint says. “Instead, they accused McDougal of committing a felony under state and federal law.”
News of McDougal’s hush-money deal came on the heels of litigation over a similar agreement with Stephanie Clifford, the adult film star better known by her stage name Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump in July 2006.
An investigation of those payments by House Democrats is one of many that could shed light on Trump’s long-secret financial records.
McDougal is demanding damages from Fox for reputational harm.
McDougal’s attorney Bernstein did not return a request for comment.
Tucker Carlson is not a party to the Thursday action, which was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.