It is getting harder for President Trump to distance himself from a $150,000 payment for the silence of a former Playboy model who claims to have had an affair with him.
While Trump's knowledge of a 2016 deal between Karen McDougal and the parent company of the National Enquirer remains uncertain, a New York Times report reveals how a close relationship between the president and Enquirer boss David Pecker has continued in the White House.
The Times reports that Pecker visited Trump in the Oval Office in the summer, accompanied by a businessman who sometimes serves as an intermediary between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Western firms. At the time, Pecker's company, American Media Inc., was considering expansion to Saudi Arabia and looking for potential investment partners in the kingdom, according to the Times.
As reporters Jim Rutenberg, Kate Kelly, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Mike McIntire wrote, the visit “was an opportune moment for Mr. Pecker to showcase his White House connections.”
It also might have been an opportune moment for the president to express his gratitude to Pecker for relentlessly positive coverage and for keeping McDougal quiet through an arrangement that Trump, even if he was unaware of it at the time of signing, could have read about in the Wall Street Journal.
In an interview with the New Yorker last year, before his trip to the White House, Pecker characterized the contract with McDougal as looking out for a “personal friend.” In the deal, McDougal agreed to write fitness columns and pose for American Media magazines, and also sold the exclusive, lifetime right to publish her account of a 10-month affair with Trump that she says began in 2006. American Media, naturally, elected not to publish McDougal's story — a practice known as “catch and kill.”
“Once she's part of the company, then on the outside she can't be bashing Trump,” Pecker told the New Yorker.
McDougal is now suing American Media in an effort to void the contract and free herself to talk about the relationship she claims to have had with Trump — which she did, at length, in a CNN interview last week. In the suit, McDougal alleges that American Media did not act alone in negotiations but “worked secretly with Mr. Trump's personal ‘fixer,’ ” Michael Cohen.
Trump and Cohen have not directly addressed McDougal's claim that Cohen was involved in brokering her contract, signed three months before Election Day 2016, but American Media told the Times last month that neither Trump nor Cohen has ever attempted to influence coverage.
That's a contention that strains credulity. Jerry George, a former AMI senior editor, told the New Yorker that in his 25 years at the company, “we never printed a word about Trump without his approval.”
Now that the Times has further chronicled the mutually beneficial relationship between Trump and Pecker, the idea that Trump was oblivious to the McDougal payoff is even harder to accept.