NEW YORK >> A right-wing media powerhouse has admitted it helped illegally bury a salacious story about President Donald Trump shortly before the 2016 election in a deliberate effort to boost his chances at beating Hillary Clinton, federal prosecutors in New York revealed today.
American Media Inc. — which owns the pro-Trump National Enquirer tabloid — was given a non-prosecution agreement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan in exchange for confessing it helped Trump facilitate an illicit $150,000 pre-election hush payment to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who had threatened to go public with claims she had sex with the president in 2006.
“AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election,” said Robert Khuzami, the deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
“AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.”
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and self-described fixer who was sentenced to three years in prison earlier today, has pleaded guilty to campaign finance crimes over his role in the McDougal payoff. Prosecutors, meanwhile, say the president directed and coordinated the McDougal payment as well as a similar $130,000 payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels, potentially opening him up to criminal liability.
AMI did not immediately return a request for comment, but an employee who asked not to be identified told the New York Daily News the company’s cooperation with federal prosecutors is a sensitive topic.
“We’re not allowed to talk about it,” the employee said outside AMI’s downtown Manhattan office.
It was not clear when AMI entered the non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office, but the development adds significant firepower to the charge that Trump had a hand in the campaign finance crimes, as it’s no longer just Cohen’s word that backs that up.
In August 2016, McDougal cut a deal with AMI, in which she sold her rights to speak publicly about allegedly having a 10-month extramarital affair with Trump in 2006.
AMI — using a practice known as “catch and kill” in media circles — in turn buried McDougal’s allegations in an effort to make sure they never saw the light of day.
Trump denies ever having sex with McDougal but has admitted to reimbursing Cohen for hush payments.
David Pecker, a longtime friend of Trump and CEO of AMI, was granted an immunity deal by federal prosecutors in August in exchange for providing information on Cohen.
Cohen, Pecker and Trump are no longer in contact with each other.