Days after it was reported that prosecutors from the Manhattan DA’s office were speaking with Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, it’s being reported that American Media Inc. (AMI) CEO David Pecker has also been speaking with those same prosecutors. What do both men have in common? They both have long histories with President Donald Trump and both received immunity deals as part of the Southern District of New York’s federal investigation into campaign finance violations.
That federal probe ended only with the incarceration of former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen, but the Manhattan DA has been taking a closer look at the hush money payments made to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels. Weisselberg and Pecker’s immunity deals only extended to the federal investigation and does not restrict state authorities from pursuing prosecution.
Cohen last year told congressional investigators that at President Trump’s (“Individual 1”) direction, he and Weisselberg came up with the plan for how to pay Daniels the money and prevent her from discussing her alleged affair with the president in the weeks before the 2016 election. Cohen said he fronted the money, which he sourced from his personal accounts, and was then paid back in installments by the Trump Organization as part of a monthly “legal retainer.”
Weisselberg, President Trump, and Donald Trump Jr. all signed at least one of the Cohen checks. Though ProPublica’s sources said the president’s children are not currently in Vance’s “crosshairs,” Law&Crime previously noted that Trump Jr. could potentially be implicated in the hush payment scheme, given his signature on a check.
As CNN noted, Pecker, the CEO of the National Enquirer’s publisher, was involved in the Daniels pay-off:
With fewer than two weeks to go before the election, Cohen had failed to either execute the agreement immediately or pay Daniels so she threatened to take her story to another publication. Pecker then informed Cohen, in part by calling him on an encrypted phone app. He told Cohen that the deal needed to be completed “or it could look awfully bad for everyone,” according to court filings. Cohen then agreed to make the payment and finalize the deal.
Pecker was also involved in the catching and killing of McDougal’s story. Pecker received the grant of immunity over information he provided to federal prosecutors about Cohen and President Trump:
[Pecker] shared details about payments Mr. Cohen arranged in an effort to silence two women…including Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the deals.
Pecker was referenced in the criminal information outlining various crimes committed–and admitted to–by Cohen. Ultimately, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight distinct counts as a part of an agreement with prosecutors–including five charges of tax evasion, one charge of bank fraud and two federal campaign finance violations. In the charging documents–the criminal information referenced above–Pecker was referred to as “Chairman-1” while The Enquirer and its parent company were referred to as “Magazine-1” and “Corporation-1,” respectively.
Much virtual ink has been spilled on the practice called “catch and kill,” in which a publication buys a damaging story just to bury it. It seems the Manhattan DA’s office is interested in knowing more about the execution of this practice. McDougal was paid $150,000 for her story about a relationship she said she had with Trump from 2006 to 2007. The deal gave AMI the rights to the story, which they chose to sit on, effectively keeping the allegations under wraps. The deal also included an arrangement for McDougal to publish columns in AMI’s publications, which she claimed they did not fulfill.