National Enquirer boss said given immunity to reveal Trump cash-for-quash scheme

Tabloid kept a safe with damaging stories it was paid to kill, sources tell AP, as Jewish tabloid owner Pecker reportedly agrees to testify on possible campaign finance violations

David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media, addresses those attending the Shape and Men's Fitness Super Bowl Party in New York in 2014. (Marion Curtis/AP)
David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media, addresses those attending the Shape and Men's Fitness Super Bowl Party in New York in 2014. (Marion Curtis/AP)

Prosecutors have granted immunity to two executives at the National Enquirer tabloid for testimony about President Donald Trump’s involvement in payoffs to silence women about his liaisons, media reports said Thursday.

The reports said immunity had been given to Enquirer chief executive David Pecker and the newspaper’s chief content officer Dylan Howard.

The Enquirer’s parent company American Media Inc. did not respond to an AFP inquiry on the reports.

The two could offer evidence on Trump’s knowledge of payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, according to the reports in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and CNN.

The executives at the supermarket tabloid were some way involved in both hush money deals, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The newspaper said that the executives would not face criminal charges in the investigation into possible violations of campaign finance laws and Trump’s involvement in the scheme.

Several people familiar with the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because they signed non-disclosure agreements, said the paper kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump.

This July 12, 2017, file photo shows the cover of an issue of the National Enquirer featuring President Donald Trump at a store in New York. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

The safe was a great source of power for Pecker, the company’s CEO, according to the sources.

Court papers say that Pecker “offered to help deal with negative stories about (Trump’s) relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.”

Pecker, who is the Jewish son of a Bronx bricklayer according to reports, is a long-time friend of Trump.

Michael Cohen, former lawyer to US President Donald Trump, exits the Federal Courthouse on August 21, 2018 in New York City. (Yana Paskova/Getty Images/AFP)

Bringing a media company into the investigation could prompt concerns over the First Amendment or press freedom. But several reports said the newspaper may not be able to use that defense because it was acting more as a political operation than a news organization.

The New York Times said the company did not challenge the subpoena and agreed to cooperate where they deemed First Amendment rights were not violated.

The revelations come days after former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen implicated Trump in pleading guilty this week to making hush payments during the 2016 campaign to the two women, who said they had had affairs with the Republican candidate.

Although Cohen did not name them, the women were believed to be Daniels and McDougal.

Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, speaks outside the US Federal Court in New York with her lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) on April 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/Eduardo Muoz Alvarez)

In July, Cohen released an audio tape in which he and Trump discussed plans to buy McDougal’s story from the Enquirer. Such a purchase was necessary, they suggested, to prevent Trump from having to permanently rely on a tight relationship with the tabloid.

“You never know where that company — you never know what he’s gonna be —” Cohen says.

“David gets hit by a truck,” Trump says.

“Correct,” Cohen replies. “So, I’m all over that.”

Former Enquirer employees who spoke to the AP said that negative stories about Trump were dead on arrival dating back more than a decade when he starred on NBC’s reality show “The Apprentice.”

In 2010, at Cohen’s urging, the National Enquirer began promoting a potential Trump presidential candidacy, referring readers to a pro-Trump website Cohen helped create. With Cohen’s involvement, the publication began questioning President Barack Obama’s birthplace and American citizenship in print, an effort that Trump promoted for several years, former staffers said.

The Enquirer endorsed Trump for president in 2016, the first time it had ever officially backed a candidate. In the news pages, Trump’s coverage was so favorable that the New Yorker magazine said the Enquirer embraced him “with sycophantic fervor.”

Positive headlines for Trump, a Republican, were matched by negative stories about his opponents, including Hillary Clinton, a Democrat: An Enquirer front page from 2015 said “Hillary: 6 Months to Live” and accompanied the headline with a picture of an unsmiling Clinton with bags under her eyes.

Because the hush payments were intended to influence the outcome of the elections, they violated US laws governing campaign contributions, putting Trump in legal jeopardy.

Trump claimed in a Fox News interview that his former lawyer “made the deals,” and insisted that Cohen’s actions were “not a crime,” while going on to claim that “campaign violations are considered not a big deal, frankly.”

The president then said the hush payments were financed with his own money — to which Cohen had access — and that while he had no knowledge of them at the time, he had since been fully transparent.

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