It was already an ominous week for President Trump when it came to Michael Cohen. And it just became more so.
The Post's Sarah Ellison reported Thursday evening that three sources tell her the National Enquirer shared stories about Trump with Cohen before publication — both during the 2016 campaign and after Trump became president:
During the presidential campaign, National Enquirer executives sent digital copies of the tabloid’s articles and cover images related to Donald Trump and his political opponents to Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen in advance of publication, according to three people with knowledge of the matter — an unusual practice that speaks to the close relationship between Trump and David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company.
Although the company strongly denies ever sharing such material before publication, these three individuals say the sharing of material continued after Trump took office.
“Since Trump’s become president and even before, [Pecker] openly just has been willing to turn the magazine and the cover over to the Trump machine,” said one of the people with knowledge of the practice.
During the campaign, “if it was a story specifically about Trump, then it was sent over to Michael, and as long as there were no objections from him, the story could be published,” this person added.
To the casual observer, this may seem like a media ethics story. But it's potentially way more than that.
That's because Trump's control over — and Cohen's involvement in — the Enquirer's and American Media's business is at the center of the probe into Cohen and alleged hush-money payments to Trump's accusers. While Cohen has clearly been implicated in the payment to one adult-film star who has claimed an affair with Trump, Stormy Daniels, the connection when it comes to another, Karen McDougal, has been much more tenuous.
We also know Trump and David Pecker are friends. We knew that the Enquirer's parent company paid for Playboy Playmate McDougal's story and then killed it — a “catch-and-kill” practice that some AMI employees have said was either a favor for Trump or leverage to use against him — but we haven't previously seen such a clear indication of a business and editorial relationship between Cohen and AMI. McDougal, in her since-settled lawsuit, accused Cohen of colluding with AMI to silence her, but to this point that has largely been conjecture. AMI employees have also told the New Yorker that they believe Cohen was in close contact with AMI executives as the Enquirer was buying (and not running) another story from a Trump accuser — a doorman named Dino Sajudin who said he had heard about Trump fathering an illegitimate child in the 1980s.
Were Cohen to have this degree of control over the things the Enquirer published during the campaign, it wouldn't be at all difficult to believe it was in cahoots with Cohen on stories that clearly would have impacted Trump's fate — including McDougal and Sajudin. Ellison's sources don't appear to have direct knowledge of any such particular machinations, but it's almost impossible to believe Cohen would be apprised of minor stories without having input over potentially major scandals — or at least being given the chance to affect the course of how they were covered.
From there, the question is whether that might have included any financial considerations. Ellison's sources didn't say anything specifically regarding McDougal or Sajudin. But investigators are clearly interested in the relationship between Cohen and AMI, with the Wall Street Journal reporting this week that they have subpoenaed AMI for records related to the McDougal payment. It is believed this pertains to the broadening criminal case against Cohen.
And a number of signals this week suggested Cohen may be interested in flipping on Trump — which is really the big, broader question in all of this. Within a day, the Journal reported Cohen is unhappy that Trump isn't footing his legal bills, CNN reported someone close to Cohen was warning Trump that Cohen has a story to tell if he flips, and Cohen conspicuously distanced himself from Trump's policy of separating families who immigrate illegally. In addition, Cohen resigned from his position as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee — even though he didn't need to. All of this came after Cohen hired a new lawyer with ties to the same Southern District of New York office with which he would be arranging a deal.
When it comes to Trump's longtime lawyer and personal “fixer,” that's a whole lot of bad signs in a very short period of time for the president.