The hour-long interview on CNN marked a particularly sensational moment, for both Trump, as allegations about past affairs draw more scrutiny, and the media, for whom McDougal’s in-depth questioning from host Anderson Cooper was a prime-time event. If Trump’s presidency and the headlines it has generated have been considered a reality show, this was the grocery aisle tabloid rebuttal.
McDougal spoke about a physical relationship she says began in 2006, alleging Trump offered her money the first time they were intimate and choking up as she recounted the guilt she felt for being a party to an affair. She reflected on the connection she developed with the “sweet” man she said she fell in love with and unflinchingly recounted some of the romance’s most salacious details.
“When I look back where I was back then, I know it’s wrong,” McDougal said, choking back tears. “I’m really sorry for that.”
The interview came just days after McDougal filed a lawsuit against American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, in the attempt to void her agreement to sell the story’s rights to the company for $150,000 about three months before the election.
The affair took off in June 2006, McDougal said, which would have been just a few months after the birth of Trump’s 12-year-old son, Barron. The two met during a filming for “The Apprentice” at the Playboy Mansion, where McDougal, who was Playmate of the Year in 1998, was working, she said.
“He said hello and then throughout the night it was kind of obvious that there was an attraction,” McDougal said.
Trump asked her for her phone number at the end of the night, she said. By his next visit to Los Angeles, around his June 14 birthday, they had started speaking on the phone and had planned a “date” for dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, picked her up and drove her to a rear entrance at the hotel, she said.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Are we going to a room because I thought we were having dinner,’ ” McDougal said.
The two did have dinner — in a private bungalow at the hotel, she said.
“Then as the night ended,” she told Cooper, “we were intimate.”
McDougal said that at the end of the night Trump tried to hand her cash — an experience that she had never had before and one that left her feeling “terrible” and crying in the car ride home.
“The look on my face must have been so sad,” she said. “I looked at him and said that’s not me, I’m not that kind of girl.”
“I got over it, but it did hurt,” she said.
Still the relationship between the two blossomed into something far beyond a one-night stand, McDougal said. For 10 months, the couple saw each other at least five times a month at hotels, at Trump’s golf courses, a property in Bedminster, N.J., and even at his apartment at Trump Tower, McDougal said. Whenever she booked a flight or a hotel, Trump would reimburse her, to prevent a paper trail she assumed, McDougal told Cooper.
Even so, she felt they formed a genuine bond.
“There were real feelings between the two of us,” McDougal said, saying she considered and “maybe” even hoped that their relationship could lead to marriage. “He always told me that he loved me.”
Unlike the belligerent, invective-flinging character people see on television or Twitter, Trump was “charming,” and “caring,” said McDougal, who described herself as an avid Republican and proud Trump voter.
She described the guilt she felt visiting the businessman’s Trump Tower apartment, where he showed her a room he said was Melania’s, where “she likes to have her alone time or to get away to read, or something like that.”
“That’s when I thought maybe they’re having issues,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to get out. … Doing something wrong is bad enough, but when you’re doing something wrong and you’re in the middle of someone’s home or bed or whatever, that just puts a little stab in your heart.”
She later met Melania Trump at an event, she said.
McDougal said that the president was very proud of his daughter Ivanka and told McDougal she was “beautiful like her.” She says she decided to end the relationship in April 2007 because it was “tearing” her apart.
“What can you say except I’m sorry,” McDougal said. “I wouldn’t want it done to me.”
The tone of the interview was serious, as McDougal reflected on a relationship with a man she said she cared for deeply. Cooper even pried into intimate details, such as whether the two used protection when they had sex. (The answer, if you must know, was no.)
The near-constant chaos and upheaval of the Trump administration has seemed at times to drown out other news events that would have been central scandals during previous presidencies. McDougal’s story has surfaced recently, after weeks of reports about his alleged affair with the adult-film star Stormy Daniels.
Daniels — who is scheduled for her own close-up with Anderson Cooper on the CBS program “60 Minutes” on Sunday — was paid $130,000 by Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, to keep silent about the story before the election. She has also filed a lawsuit to void the confidentiality agreement, arguing in part that it was never signed by Trump.
McDougal told Cooper that Daniels’s decision “made a little bit of an impact” on her decision to speak out.
The two women’s stories also appear to intersect.
McDougal described spending time with Trump at a 2006 golf tournament in Lake Tahoe — where Daniels has said she first met and formed a relationship with Trump.
“I knew he talked to ladies,” McDougal said, when asked by Cooper. “I thought I was the only one.”
Cooper asked her about a denial issued by then-campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks in 2016 that the affair claim was “totally untrue.”
“I think somebody’s lying, and I can tell you it’s not me,” McDougal said.
McDougal said that she began discussions with AMI around the time that Trump secured the Republican nomination — not because she wanted to but because a friend had convinced her that she should own her story, which had started seeping out in rumors on social media. She considered sharing it with ABC’s news division, though they were not going to pay her, and she eventually backed out, she said.
Through negotiations with a lawyer that she had been connected with, Keith Davidson, AMI promised her the opportunity to write monthly columns for a couple of its magazines like Ok! and Star, and be featured on two covers, as part of a push to help her rebrand as an “older” model, she said.
And in return, the publishing company would get the rights to the story, she said.
McDougal says she knew that they planned to squash the story, perhaps as a favor to Trump, adding that she now believes Cohen was involved — something alleged in her lawsuit, as well.
“What model wouldn’t want that?” she said of the deal she was offered. “It’s a win-win for me. I get the work, and my story doesn’t have to come out.”
The suit claims that Davidson worked secretly with AMI and Cohen as “part of a broad effort to silence and intimidate” her.
The $150,000 McDougal was paid for her story was split nearly evenly between her and Davidson — 45 percent went to the lawyer, the complaint says.
Davidson said he could not comment because of attorney-client privilege.
The White House, Cohen and AMI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.