The National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election, people familiar with the arrangement told The Associated Press.
The detail came as several media outlets reported on Thursday that federal prosecutors had granted immunity to National Enquirer chief David Pecker, potentially laying bare his efforts to protect his longtime friend Trump. AP
Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty this week to campaign finance violations alleging he, Trump and the tabloid were involved in buying the silence of a porn actress and a Playboy model who alleged affairs with Trump.
Five 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 safe was a great source of power for Pecker, the company’s CEO.
The Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities’ catch-and-kill deals, in which exclusive rights to people’s stories were bought with no intention of publishing to keep them out of the news. By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return.
But after The Wall Street Journal initially published the first details of Playboy model Karen McDougal’s catch-and-kill deal shortly before the 2016 election, those assets became a liability. Fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker and the company’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration, according to one person directly familiar with the events.
It was unclear whether the documents were destroyed or simply were moved to a location known to fewer people.
Jerry George, a longtime Enquirer reporter who left the publication in 2013, said the practice of catch and kill took root at the Enquirer under Pecker. Though George had no personal knowledge of Trump-specific catch and kills, he said that AMI generally paid hush money only if it believed it had something to gain.
“It’s ‘I did this for you,’ now what can you do for me,” George said. “They always got something in return.”
Catch and kills were loathed by the National Enquirer’s reporters, he said, because they robbed the publication of juicy stories.