There is a lot of old information in a lawsuit that former Playboy model Karen McDougal filed against the National Enquirer's parent company Tuesday, but one new claim stands out and could spell trouble for President Trump.
McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump more than a decade ago, alleges in the lawsuit that American Media Inc. did not act alone when it bought her silence in 2016 but “worked secretly with Mr. Trump's personal 'fixer.' ”
The “fixer,” according to the lawsuit, is attorney Michael Cohen, the same lawyer who claims to have used his own funds to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels, who also says she had an affair with Trump.
The White House has declined to say whether Trump knew about Cohen's $130,000 arrangement with Daniels, though the notion that Trump would have been unaware strains credulity. It seemed more plausible that Trump would not have known about the $150,000 deal between McDougal and American Media, but now the charge that Cohen was involved in that nondisclosure agreement, too, makes it even harder to imagine that the president had no idea what was being done on his behalf.
The buffer between Trump and the efforts to muzzle the women he allegedly had affairs with appears to be shrinking. Trump denies both relationships.
American Media told the New York Times last month that it contacted Cohen only in the course of vetting McDougal's account of a sexual relationship with Trump. American Media chief executive David Pecker has previously suggested that he was merely looking out for a friend, Trump, when his company purchased exclusive rights to McDougal's story then did not publish it, a practice known as “catch and kill.”
Under the contract between McDougal and American Media, included in court documents, the former model would appear on magazine covers and write fitness columns while turning over lifetime rights to her story about “any romantic, personal and/or physical relationship McDougal has ever had with any then-married man.”
“Once she's part of the company, then on the outside she can't be bashing Trump,” Pecker told the New Yorker last year.
McDougal claims in her lawsuit that Cohen was more involved in contract negotiations than Pecker and American Media have let on.
“AMI entered into the agreement with Ms. McDougal in coordination with Michael Cohen, an agent of the Trump campaign, and for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential election,” the suit alleges.
The lawsuit also accuses McDougal’s former attorney, Keith Davidson, of colluding with Cohen and American Media. Cohen told the Times he does not recall speaking with Davidson before the contract was signed but has not addressed McDougal’s claim that he worked with American Media.
Michael Avenatti, an attorney for Daniels, said last week that he has been contacted by six other women who claim to have had sexual relationships with Trump; at least two of these women say they signed nondisclosure agreements, according to Avenatti.
David Hoffman, a contract-law specialist at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who reviewed Daniels's nondisclosure agreement at The Fix's request, said that “when you read this contract, it's pretty clear that this isn't the first time they've [Trump's team] had an agreement, which is why there are so many weird clauses in there about paternity and about videotape. I think there were other people for whom those were relevant questions.”
A major question is whether more women will come forward and produce contracts that Cohen negotiated — and whether Trump can plausibly deny knowing about any of them.