Vanity Fair and the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the head of the company that owns the National Enquirer, David Pecker, has been granted immunity in exchange for providing information about Michael Cohen and President Donald Trump.
From the Journal:
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 familiar with the matter] said. Prosecutors have indicated that Mr. Pecker won’t be criminally charged for his participation in the deals, the people said.
Cohen pleaded guilty on Tuesday to bank fraud, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations. In open court, Cohen said that Trump had directed him to commit his campaign finance crimes, which involved working with American Media, Inc. to set up hush money payments during the 2016 campaign to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.
Pecker had previously described himself as a friend of Trump’s and equated an attack on the president as a personal attack on his company.
Vanity Fair published a similar account to the Journal, reporting that A.M.I.’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, had also been granted immunity so that the pair “would describe Trump’s involvement in Cohen’s payments.” The Journal reported that prosecutors have indicated that Howard would not be charged.
Vanity Fair further reported that the Enquirer was a strong booster of Trump during the 2016 Republican primary and presidential campaign, but no longer:
Pecker’s friendship with Trump now seems to be over. According to a source close to A.M.I., Pecker and Trump haven’t spoken in roughly eight months. Howard remains particularly angry at Trump, two people close to Howard told me. “There is no love lost,” one person familiar with Howard’s thinking said. Another person said Howard “hates Trump” and feels “used and abused by him.”
The New York Times and the Journal reported in June that prosecutors in the Southern District of New York had subpoenaed AMI executives in the spring. At the time of that report, AMI issued a statement saying that “American Media Inc. has, and will continue to, comply with any and all requests that do not jeopardize or violate its protected sources or materials pursuant to our First Amendment rights.”
On Wednesday, the Journal reported that Pecker, American Media, and the Trump Organization had been served subpoenas around the time of the FBI’s April 9 raid on Cohen’s office and hotel room.
It’s unclear what criminal liability Pecker might have faced considering the First Amendment’s protections for journalists. The potential complexity in any case against Pecker and AMI might have motivated prosecutors to offer a relatively generous full immunity deal to Pecker rather than a harsher plea bargain. Prosecutors also might have hoped to rely upon Pecker’s information to help prove Cohen’s charges.
“Going after AMI would have been complicated given that they are a media company,” election law expert, University of California–Irvine School of Law professor, and occasional Slate contributor Richard Hasen told me. “And they may have wanted Pecker’s corroboration before they charged Cohen or took his plea.”