David Pecker calmly links Trump, Michael Cohen to suppressing stories, pushing fake news

David Pecker, who ran the National Enquirer empire, confirmed under oath yesterday that he had used catch-and-kill payments to help Donald Trump’s campaign – and his text messages didn’t help the former president either.

In his second day of testimony, the former Trump pal calmly described forking over cash in two such instances: one for a story that turned out to be flatly untrue, and one to buy the silence of former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, who alleges a 10-month affair that Trump denies.

Time ran out before they got to Stormy Daniels, whose account of a one-night sexual encounter with Trump – which he also denies – is at the heart of the case, at least if it can be tied to falsified business records.

Under questioning by Manhattan Assistant D.A. Josh Steinglass, Pecker said he even viewed it as his duty to the campaign to help keep damaging Trump stories out of other publications.


In his second day of testimony at the hush money trial, Pecker said former Trump fixer Michael Cohen invited him to the candidate’s June 2015 launch, part of an effort to show how close he was to Trump and his team. (My personal favorites: He pitched a magazine called Trump Style, and Trump would leak him the ratings for “The Apprentice,” which the Enquirer would publish.)

In August 2015, in a meeting with Trump and Cohen, Pecker says he was asked: “What can I do, and what my magazines could do, to help the campaign.”

His response: “I would run or publish positive stories about Mr. Trump, and negative stories about his opponents.” Cohen said he could have such stories killed even if they were slated to run in another publication, Pecker testified.

The positive stories were easy: “Donald Trump: Healthiest Individual Ever Elected!”

Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen, former personal lawyer to US President Donald Trump, right, outside federal court in New York, US, on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023.  (Yuki Iwamura/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

But Cohen would call, ask for a negative story on, say, Ted Cruz, send the information, “and we’d embellish it from there.”

Which led to “Ted Cruz Sex Scandal: 5 Secret Mistresses” – total fake news. (And who can forget the bogus Enquirer story purporting to tie Cruz’s dad to the JFK assassination?)

Or there would be a request for a hit piece on Ben Carson:

“Bungling Surgeon Ben Carson Left Sponge in Patient’s Brain.”


One factor that could play out in Trump’s favor – or with a lone juror holdout – is that both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were negotiating to sell their stories in the final stretch of the campaign, when the candidate would be at his most vulnerable.

Pecker described paying $30,000 to a former Trump building doorman for his story about the candidate having fathered an out-of-wedlock baby. But an Enquirer found the story to be utterly untrue. Interestingly, had it been substantiated, Pecker said he would have run it – after the election.

With McDougal, who was supposedly negotiating with ABC, Pecker had Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard investigate and he found her account credible. Cohen constantly called for updates, and Trump was concerned enough to call Pecker himself. Pecker said they should buy and suppress her story.

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker speaks from the witness stand during former U.S. President Donald Trump's criminal trial

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker speaks from the witness stand during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S. April 22, 2024, in this courtroom sketch.  (REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg)

Trump was opposed, saying when you do that, it always comes out and you look even worse.

But Pecker insisted. So the Enquirer arranged a $150,000 payment that was for McDougal to write a fitness column for another magazine in parent company America Media’s stable–and stay quiet about Trump, he testified.

Now none of this has to do with the heart of the legal case, which is about falsifying business records to hide the reimbursements to Cohen. But that is pretty boring stuff.

What prosecutors were trying to do is tell a story, with Pecker–who is testifying under a previous grant of immunity–more believable than the disbarred, later jailed Cohen, whose credibility will come under fierce attack.


Next up, Pecker will tell the Stormy Daniels story tomorrow, with no trial proceedings today.  And, presumably, eventually get to his falling out with Trump.

Earlier, Judge Juan Marchan heard from both sides on whether Trump had violated his gag order by attacking other witnesses–namely Cohen and Stormy–and wound up excoriating the former president’s lawyer.

Prosecutors said Trump had violated the gag order 10 times, and proposed a fine of a thousand bucks per incident. So the entire argument was about $10,000 – which even in his cash-strapped state, is a rounding error for Trump.

The former president’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, said there was “absolutely no willful violation of a gag order” and that his client was allowed to respond to attacks by Cohen and Daniels.

Donald Trump watches with his attorney Todd Blanche as prosecutor Matthew Colangelo makes opening statements during Trump's criminal trial

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo makes opening statements as former U.S. President Donald Trump watches with his attorney Todd Blanche before Justice Juan Merchan during Trump’s criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S. April 22, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. (REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg)

Blanche had a weak hand to play, and Merchan kept pressing him for specific comments by Cohen and Daniels.  

The judge grew exasperated, raising his voice at one point: “I keep asking you over and over to give me an answer and I’m not getting an answer.”

It was “silly,” Merchan said, to assume the gag order was somehow waived because Trump had been attacked.


Finally, the judge scolded Blanche: “You’re losing all credibility with the court. You’ve presented nothing.”

Judge Merchan didn’t make a decision yesterday, but it’s crystal clear what he intends to do.

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