Hours after Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison in part for violating campaign finance laws via secret hush-money payments, the parent company of the National Enquirer has resolved a related federal investigation by admitting that it also participated in the payment scheme with the express purpose of aiding the Trump 2016 campaign. The news was announced in a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which prosecuted Cohen:
The Office also announced today that it has previously reached a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, in connection with AMI’s role in making the above-described $150,000 payment before the 2016 presidential election. As a part of the agreement, AMI admitted that it made the $150,000 payment in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign, and in order to ensure that the woman did not publicize damaging allegations about the candidate before the 2016 presidential election. AMI further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.
Previous reports related to the investigation had revealed that AMI chairman and CEO David Pecker, a longtime friend of Trump’s, orchestrated a $150,000 payment in 2016 to a former Playboy model named Karen McDougal who says she had an affair with Trump. (Trump denies that it took place, but detailed notes that McDougal has said she took at the time appear to corroborate her claim.) The payment covered a nondisclosure agreement related to the alleged affair but also purported to hire McDougal as a contributor to AMI properties; as you can see above, the company is now attesting that its true purpose was simply to prevent McDougal’s story from harming Trump’s effort to become president. As such, the law dictates that it should have been disclosed publicly as a campaign contribution. (Trump has called the payment a “private transaction,” implying that it was made for personal rather than campaign-related reasons, and blamed Cohen for setting it up improperly.)
While it was already known that Pecker had decided to cooperate with the federal investigation, it’s not clear what exactly led to his decision, or why AMI decided to abandon its previously stated claim that the practice of suppressing a given story in exchange for potential future access to its subject (a practice known in the tabloid business as “catch-and-kill”) was protected under the First Amendment. Also unknown, of course, is whether the prosecutors working on this case plan to eventually charge Trump himself.