Two days after longtime Donald Trump crony Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to crimes including helping to pay off women who said they had affairs with his boss, and hours after the public learned National Enquirer boss and Trump ally David Pecker was granted immunity by the feds in that case, we got another hint at how the president's apparently extensively hush-money operation worked. On Thursday afternoon, the AP reported that the Enquirer had a safe stocked with "documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election."
The infamous tabloid apparently assembled this cache through "catch-and-kill," a seedy technique in which a publication pays a source for exclusive rights to a story, then refuses to publish, thus keeping any other outlet from running it. This material can be used to blackmail the subject of the damaging story—TMZ reportedly sat on a video of Justin Bieber telling racist jokes for years, which it used as leverage to get him to cooperate on their stories.
But the Enquirer likely wasn't looking for leverage over Trump, and apparently made at least one of these deals with his knowledge. In 2006, Playboy playmate Karen McDougal reportedly started an affair with Trump; ten years later, in the heat of the presidential campaign, she sold her story to the Enquirer's parent company, American Media, Inc. (AMI), for $150,000. Four days before the election, Trump's camp denied McDougal's allegations and said the candidate had no knowledge of the payments, but that turned out to be a lie, as a recording made by Cohen of him and Trump discussing the payoff revealed when it was released last month. Cohen paid AMI back via a shell company and was reimbursed by Trump.
The records of that deal, the AP reported, were hidden along with the Enquirer's other catch-and-kill ephemera, but after the Wall Street Journal broke the news of the agreement with McDougal earlier this year, the media company's brass freaked out. "Fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker and the company’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration, according to one person directly familiar with the events," wrote the AP. "It was unclear whether the documents were destroyed or simply were moved to a location known to fewer people."
It makes you wonder what else might be in various safes!
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