National Enquirer parent cooperates on Trump probe
At least one unidentified aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign joined Michael Cohen in an August 2015 meeting with the publisher of the National Enquirer to discuss suppressing negative news stories during the election.
The deeper involvement of Trump’s campaign staff was revealed on Wednesday by federal prosecutors in New York, who disclosed they had reached a non-prosecution agreement with National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc. Under the deal, AMI admitted it worked with the campaign to kill stories “about the presidential candidate’s relationships with women” and agreed to cooperate.
The deal signals that New York investigators are digging further into potential campaign finance violations and who in Trump’s team was involved, adding pressure to the president and his circle. It was announced shortly after Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, was sentenced to three years in prison, in part for his role in a $150,000 payment by AMI to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal about her alleged extramarital affair with Trump.
While Trump has focused his wrath on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference, the New York probe of campaign finance violations is a significant threat to the president since prosecutors have used court filings about Cohen to tie Trump to the scheme.
“It’s another indication that this investigation into conduct by the president’s campaign is continuing to move forward on a number of different fronts,” said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor who is now in private practice in New Jersey.
More: Cohen Gets Prison, Vows to Keep Helping Mueller’s Probe
Under the Sept. 20 agreement, AMI won’t be prosecuted and must cooperate for three years. The deal marks a change of allegiances for one of Trump’s biggest supporters, AMI Chairman and Chief Executive Officer David Pecker. Potentially a key witness for the government, Pecker has been a close friend of Trump and gave positive coverage to his campaign in the National Enquirer.
A spokesman for the company declined to comment.
AMI has “provided substantial and important assistance” to the prosecutors in New York, the government said in its agreement. “AMI has made various personnel from AMI available for numerous interviews; engaged outside counsel to ensure the integrity of its compliance with and responses to subpoenas; and responded to numerous requests from prosecutors for various specific items of information.”
According to the agreement, AMI on Aug. 5, 2016, agreed to acquire the “limited life rights” of McDougal – identified in the agreement as a “model and actress” – to her story of her relationships with “any then-married man” in exchange for $150,000. That amount was substantially more than the company would otherwise pay because of Cohen’s assurances to Pecker that AMI would be “substantially reimbursed.”
AMI admitted that its purpose was “to suppress the model’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” according to the agreement. At no time did AMI intend to publish the story, and the company failed to report the $150,000 payment to McDougal to the Federal Election Commission, the company admitted.
“You now have AMI admitting that the payments were made for the purpose of influencing the election,” said Mintz, who’s not involved in the case. “It’s a critical admission because, if true, it transforms the payment into a criminal violation as opposed to simply a private transaction.”
In late August 2016 and into September, Cohen told Pecker he wanted to pay $125,000 for the rights to McDougal’s story about her relationship with Trump, the company said.