Federal prosecutors have reportedly granted immunity to David Pecker, the chief executive and chairman of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, in the ongoing Michael Cohen investigation.
As part of the deal, Pecker agreed to provide information to prosecutors related to payments made to two alleged one-time sexual partners of President Donald Trump ― former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn actress Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels ― in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. Cohen and AMI allegedly helped coordinate both payments.
Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer, pleaded guilty earlier this week to two counts of violating federal campaign finance laws as a result of his role in the payments but said he did so at Trump’s direction. Because of the deal with prosecutors, Pecker will reportedly avoid criminal charges, as will chief content officer Dylan Howard.
Federal court documents filed in New York this week related to Cohen’s various misdeeds did not directly cite Pecker or AMI by name. But previous reporting made clear they were referred to as “Chairman-1” and “Corporation-1,” respectively. In the documents, prosecutors laid out the alleged efforts of Pecker and Howard to help Cohen “suppress” stories that might have otherwise hurt Trump on Election Day.
According to the court documents, Pecker and Cohen agreed to a coordinated campaign to suppress negative stories about Trump just two months after the now-president announced he would run for high office:
In or about August 2015, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Corporation-1 (“Chairman-1”), in coordination with MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, and one or more members of the campaign, offered to help deal with negative stories about Individual-1′s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided. Chairman-1 agreed to keep COHEN apprised of any such negative stories.
Pecker has long considered Trump a “personal friend,” and the National Enquirer drew public attention to itself during the campaign by publicly endorsing the former reality TV star. But prosecutors in the Cohen case allege the support extended behind the scenes, where AMI kept Cohen abreast of potentially harmful stories and worked to keep them out of the public eye:
Consistent with the agreement described above, Corporation-1 advised MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, of negative stories during the course of the campaign, and COHEN, with the assistance of Corporation-1, was able to arrange for the purchase of two stories so as to suppress them and prevent them from influencing the election.
By the time the Wall Street Journal broke the news of McDougal’s affair, it was November 4, 2016, just four days before the presidential election. In a statement at the time, AMI said that it had “not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump.”
Rather, AMI said it was interested in McDougal’s fitness columns and magazine covers, on top of the right to any story she might have had about an affair with a married man.
AMI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.