NEW YORK (Reuters) – The publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper has admitted it paid hush money to a former Playboy magazine model to prevent her from going public ahead of the 2016 election with claims that she had an affair with President Donald Trump.
Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal poses at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills in 1998. REUTERS/Files
Federal prosecutors in New York said on Wednesday that American Media Inc (AMI) [AMRCM.UL], as part of a deal to cooperate with prosecutors and avoid charges, admitted it made a $150,000 payment to Karen McDougal “in concert” with Trump’s presidential campaign.
AMI said Chief Executive David Pecker met with Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and at least one other member of the campaign in August 2015 and offered to help with negative stories about Trump’s relationships with women by buying the rights to those stories, according to a document made public by prosecutors.
AMI’s admission may support statements made by Cohen, who was sentenced on Wednesday to three years in prison for his role in the payments, that they were made to influence the election in violation of campaign finance law, legal experts said.
Federal law requires that the contribution of “anything of value” to a campaign must be disclosed, and an individual donation cannot exceed $2,700.
Trump and his lawyers have argued the payments were a personal matter unrelated to the election.
The charges on which Cohen was sentenced include campaign finance law violations relating to his negotiation of payments to McDougal and another woman, adult film star Stormy Daniels. Cohen has said both payments were directed by Trump.
A spokesman for AMI declined to comment.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, stuck to Trump’s position on Wednesday, asserting to Reuters that the president never reimbursed AMI for its payment to McDougal.
Legal experts said the deal with AMI strengthened prosecutors’ position in any potential case against Trump, however.
Jens Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School, said the details about AMI’s intentions undermined Trump’s claim.
A New York-based appellate lawyer, Mark Zauderer, said the deal with AMI was “another arrow in the prosecutors’ quiver”.
Before the AMI deal was revealed, he said, the only known source of information about the payment was Cohen, whom the president has dismissed as a liar.
“Now it seems clear that a second source of evidence would be available to the prosecution,” he said.
McDougal has said she had a months-long sexual affair with Trump years before he took office, and that she sold her story for $150,000 to AMI, but it was never published.
Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York and Susan Heavey and Karen Freifeld in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham and Sonya Hepinstall