Rather than run through Trump’s history with David Pecker again, I’ll direct you here for quickie background. The two were natural allies: Pecker runs a famous tabloid, Trump has been a tabloid creature since his earliest days as a Manhattan celebrity. Each of them understands how powerful and profitable sensationalist media can be to a degree few other people in the world do.
No surprise, then, that the Enquirer was in the tank for Trump throughout his campaign, promoting his vision and running hit pieces on his enemies. (The latest target: Michael Cohen, of course.) If you believe federal prosecutors, their symbiosis eventually came to involve out-and-out coordination between the campaign and the paper, with Pecker working in tandem with Michael Cohen to silence Trump’s former mistresses via a “catch and kill” strategy. That’s allegedly how the payout from AMI, the Enquirer’s parent company, to Karen McDougal came about. Per WaPo:
According to the documents, Pecker assured Cohen that he would help deal with rumors related to Trump’s relationships with women by essentially turning his tabloid operation into a research arm of the Trump campaign, identifying potentially damaging stories and, when necessary, buying the silence of the women who wanted to tell them.
The legal problem for Pecker in turning his paper into a de facto arm of Trump’s campaign is that doing so blurred the line between “journalism” and campaign contributions. If a newspaper buys a sex-scandal story and opts not to run it because it can’t confirm the details, well, that’s just how reporting works sometimes. If a newspaper buys a sex-scandal story with no intention of ever running it, rather with the intention of protecting a candidate by silencing the person who’s shopping dirt on him, that sounds suspiciously like a donation to the candidate’s campaign. An unreported donation. Which is what Michael Cohen was in court for the other day.
So Pecker’s made a deal. Trump tweet, 5:38 a.m. tomorrow: “Never trust a man named Pecker!”
David Pecker, the chief executive of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, was granted immunity by federal prosecutors for providing information about Michael Cohen and Donald Trump in the criminal investigation into hush-money payments for two women during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.
In exchange for immunity, Mr. Pecker, CEO of American Media, Inc., has met with prosecutors and shared details about payments Mr. Cohen arranged in an effort to silence two women who alleged sexual encounters with Mr. Trump, including Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the deals, some of the people said. Prosecutors have indicated that Mr. Pecker won’t be criminally charged for his participation in the deals, the people said…
American Media executives were involved in both hush-money deals that formed the basis of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea to campaign-finance violations, prosecutors said. One was a $130,000 payment to Stephanie Clifford—a former porn actress who goes professionally by Stormy Daniels—to keep her from publicly discussing an alleged affair with Mr. Trump.
Trump tweet, 9:17 a.m tomorrow: “‘Immunity deal’ is just another term for ‘squealer’!” At least we’re not at the “snitches get stitches” point yet.
It was Vanity Fair that first reported Pecker flipping on Trump, quoting one Trump ally as saying, “Holy sh*t, I thought Pecker would be the last one to turn.” Reportedly the president and Pecker haven’t spoken in eight months, no doubt in part because they know prosecutors are sniffing around for communications between them. If you want to take an optimistic view of Pecker’s immunity deal, you might theorize that the damage is already done and that Cohen, not Trump, was likely the main target. The feds wanted to get Cohen on the mistress payoffs, they knew Pecker had the goods, they further knew that it would be hard to convict AMI of illegal campaign contributions given the First Amendment’s protection of the press, so they offered him immunity. Pecker could have told them to get lost, trusting that the courts would sign with a newspaper in any speech-related prosecution by the federal government.
But he didn’t.
So he gave up Cohen. And now Trump is in the Oval Office running through all of the things he and Pecker have said to each other over the years and all of the Trump scandals to which Pecker might be privy but the public isn’t. How long has he been performing “catch and kill” services for the president? More importantly, how many hush-money agreements has he assisted Trump in? One of POTUS’s chief defenses to any campaign-finance charge will be that he simply didn’t know it was illegal, and if he didn’t know that, he can’t be charged. He lacks the requisite criminal intent. There may be only two people in the world besides Trump himself who know for sure what the president’s mens rea was on a pre-campaign NDA payoff, though: One is Michael Cohen, the other is David Pecker. The latter’s now cooperating with the government, the former just copped a plea and might be cooperating soon.
It’ll be fun if Pecker finally ends up confirming that Trump planted all of the hit pieces on Cruz in the Enquirer during the primaries (he had affairs, his dad killed JFK or whatever) and then Cruz is forced to be a good sport about it lest he piss off all the Trump fans in Texas before Election Day this fall. “I admire the president’s cunning in smearing the sh*t out of me repeatedly.” Exit question: Why did AMI handle the payoff to Karen McDougal while Michael Cohen handled the payoff to Stormy a few months later? I’ve never understood that. Letting AMI take care of McDougal was, I assume, an attempt to keep Trump’s fingerprints off of it, precisely so that he wouldn’t run into campaign-finance problems later. (If in fact that’s what happened, that would suggest that Trump *did* know that mistress payments needed to be reported to the FEC.) But then when Stormy came calling, Cohen cut her a check himself. The rest is history. Why not ask Pecker and AMI to handle that deal too?