Former President Donald Trump at his trial in Manhattan Supreme Court...

Former President Donald Trump at his trial in Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday. Credit: Pool/Yuki Iwamura

The former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid testified Tuesday at the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump that he agreed to foil negative stories about Trump — at his request — as he ran for president in 2015, which prosecutors say was part of a “criminal conspiracy” to illegally impact the presidential election.

David Pecker, the former chairman and publisher of American Media Inc. — the parent company of the National Enquirer — testified Tuesday he was summoned by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, a Lawrence native, for a meeting at Trump Tower in August 2015 — two months after Trump announced his candidacy for president.

“At that meeting Donald Trump and Cohen, they asked me what I can do and what my magazines can do to help the campaign,” Pecker said from the witness stand at Trump's historic criminal trial in Manhattan. “I said what I would do is I would run or publish positive stories about Mr. Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponents. I also said that 'I would be your eyes and ears.' I said that anything that I hear in the marketplace, if I hear anything negative about yourself or if I hear anything about selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen.”

Pecker, under direct questioning by Manhattan prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, added: “Then he would have them killed in another magazine or not get published.”

Pecker, the first witness to take the stand at the trial, described what prosecutors have said was a “catch and kill” scheme that resulted in the payment of hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who is said to have had an affair with Trump.

Pecker’s testimony on Tuesday followed a contempt of court hearing on allegations Trump violated a partial gag order by Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan prohibiting the GOP’s 2024 presumptive presidential nominee from speaking negatively about potential trial witnesses, court staff or their families and the jury. Merchan did not immediately issue a ruling on the prosecution’s contention Trump should be fined $10,000 for 10 violations of the gag order. Trump’s counsel denied he had violated the gag order, which Trump has said violated his free speech rights.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with the $130,000 payment to Daniels, which prosecutors said was made to cover up a sex scandal that threatened to derail his presidential campaign at a time that it was already imperiled by the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted about grabbing women by the genitals.

Prosecutors have also alleged another woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also claims to have had an affair with Trump, was paid $150,000 for the rights to her story. A door attendant at Trump Tower who shopped to the Enquirer an apparently false story that Trump had fathered a child with a maid was paid $30,000 in order to quash his story.

Trump, the first president or ex-president to stand trial on criminal charges, sat at the defense table as Pecker, his one-time friend, testified.

Trump lead defense attorney Todd Blanche, in his opening statement Monday, rejected the prosecution's assertion the payoff was part of a conspiracy to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election.

“I have a spoiler alert: There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence the election,” Blanche said. “It’s called democracy.”

Pecker, 72, of Fairfield County, Connecticut, during his second day on the stand, walked the jury through the world of tabloid publishing, which according to Pecker, included paying sources up to $10,000 for stories.

Pecker, who testified under a non-prosecution agreement, complimented his old friend as he painted himself as the brainchild of the "catch and kill" scheme.

“I was the person who thought that there were a lot of women who would come out to sell their stories because Mr. Trump was well known and the most eligible bachelor and dated the most beautiful women,” Pecker said. “When someone runs a campaign like this, it is well known that these women would come forward to try to sell their stories to the National Enquirer.”

Pecker explained it was an off-the-books agreement that was “highly, highly confidential,” though he notified high-ranking editors at the publication.

“It wasn’t put into writing,” Pecker said.” It was just an agreement between friends.”

When Pecker notified one top editor, Dylan Howard, he testified that he explained: “Any stories out there about Donald Trump, vet the stories, bring them to me. We’ll have to speak to Michael Cohen, but we have to vet them first. I told him that we’re going to try to help the campaign and to do that I want to do this as quiet as possible.”

The agreement with Trump and Cohen to conceal bad stories about Trump also included a stipulation the tabloid would run negative pieces on Trump’s opponents — first his fellow Republicans in the presidential primary and then Hillary Clinton, the Democrat he bested in the 2016 general election, Pecker told jurors.

“We would like you to run a negative article, for example, Ted Cruz, and then he would send me negative information about [former HUD Secretary] Ben Carson or [Texas Sen.] Ted Cruz or [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio and then that would be the basis of our story,” Pecker said. “Then we would embellish it.”

Pecker said he dealt with Cohen directly, not Trump.

“I assumed that he was talking to Mr. Trump, since Michael Cohen wasn’t part of the campaign. When he said ‘we,’ I always assumed he was talking about Mr. Trump.” Pecker said.

Steinglass introduced into evidence a series of hit-pieces on Trump’s primary opponents, including one headlined: “Bumbling surgeon Ben Carson left a sponge in patient’s brain.”

Pecker said he sent Cohen proofs of the articles before publication. Cohen offered feedback.

“After the Republican debates and based on the success some of the other candidates had, I would receive a call from Michael Cohen. He would direct me and direct Dylan Howard which direction we should go,” Pecker said.

Pecker also outlined how Dino Sadjudin, a door attendant at Trump Tower had alleged Trump fathered a daughter with a maid who worked for the ex-president. Pecker said he called Cohen to alert him.

“In August, we had our meeting, we had our agreement that anything that I heard in the marketplace that was going to be negative about Trump or his family that I would go to Michael Cohen,” Pecker said.

While Cohen instantly denied the veracity of the claim, the National Enquirer attempted to corroborate Sadjudin’s story.

The publication entered into a source agreement with Sadjudin that would guarantee its exclusive rights to publish the story for up to a period of 120 days, Pecker testified, and a $30,000 payment to Sadjudin was negotiated.

“This will be a very big story,” Pecker testified of his thinking at the time. “I think it should be removed from the marketplace.”

Pecker said Trump was aware of the story.

“I thought it was very important that Dino would not be shopping the story to other media outlets,” Pecker said. “Number 2, if the story was true and I published it, it would be the biggest story of the National Enquirer since the death of Elvis Presley. If the story came back as true, I would have published the story as soon as it was verified.”

But, Pecker added, he would have held his salacious scoop until after voters cast their ballots in the presidential election.

“I would have published it after the election," he said.

The trial is off on Wednesday but is slated to resume Thursday with Pecker taking the stand for a third day.

The former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid testified Tuesday at the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump that he agreed to foil negative stories about Trump — at his request — as he ran for president in 2015, which prosecutors say was part of a “criminal conspiracy” to illegally impact the presidential election.

David Pecker, the former chairman and publisher of American Media Inc. — the parent company of the National Enquirer — testified Tuesday he was summoned by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, a Lawrence native, for a meeting at Trump Tower in August 2015 — two months after Trump announced his candidacy for president.

“At that meeting Donald Trump and Cohen, they asked me what I can do and what my magazines can do to help the campaign,” Pecker said from the witness stand at Trump's historic criminal trial in Manhattan. “I said what I would do is I would run or publish positive stories about Mr. Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponents. I also said that 'I would be your eyes and ears.' I said that anything that I hear in the marketplace, if I hear anything negative about yourself or if I hear anything about selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen.”

Pecker, under direct questioning by Manhattan prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, added: “Then he would have them killed in another magazine or not get published.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid testified Tuesday at the hush money trial of ex-President Donald Trump that he agreed to foil negative stories about Trump — at his request — as he ran for president in 2015.
  • David Pecker, the former chairman and publisher of American Media Inc. — the parent company of the National Enquirer — testified Tuesday he was beckoned by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, a Lawrence native, for a meeting at Trump Tower in August 2015 — two months after Trump announced his candidacy for president.
  • The first witness to take the stand, Pecker described what prosecutors have said was a "catch and kill" scheme that resulted in the payment of hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had an affair with Trump.

Pecker, the first witness to take the stand at the trial, described what prosecutors have said was a “catch and kill” scheme that resulted in the payment of hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who is said to have had an affair with Trump.

Pecker’s testimony on Tuesday followed a contempt of court hearing on allegations Trump violated a partial gag order by Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan prohibiting the GOP’s 2024 presumptive presidential nominee from speaking negatively about potential trial witnesses, court staff or their families and the jury. Merchan did not immediately issue a ruling on the prosecution’s contention Trump should be fined $10,000 for 10 violations of the gag order. Trump’s counsel denied he had violated the gag order, which Trump has said violated his free speech rights.

Former President Donald Trump, left, watches as David Pecker testifies...

Former President Donald Trump, left, watches as David Pecker testifies at Trump's hush money trial in Manhattan on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Elizabeth Williams

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with the $130,000 payment to Daniels, which prosecutors said was made to cover up a sex scandal that threatened to derail his presidential campaign at a time that it was already imperiled by the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted about grabbing women by the genitals.

Prosecutors have also alleged another woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also claims to have had an affair with Trump, was paid $150,000 for the rights to her story. A door attendant at Trump Tower who shopped to the Enquirer an apparently false story that Trump had fathered a child with a maid was paid $30,000 in order to quash his story.

Trump, the first president or ex-president to stand trial on criminal charges, sat at the defense table as Pecker, his one-time friend, testified.

Trump lead defense attorney Todd Blanche, in his opening statement Monday, rejected the prosecution's assertion the payoff was part of a conspiracy to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election.

“I have a spoiler alert: There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence the election,” Blanche said. “It’s called democracy.”

Pecker, 72, of Fairfield County, Connecticut, during his second day on the stand, walked the jury through the world of tabloid publishing, which according to Pecker, included paying sources up to $10,000 for stories.

Pecker, who testified under a non-prosecution agreement, complimented his old friend as he painted himself as the brainchild of the "catch and kill" scheme.

“I was the person who thought that there were a lot of women who would come out to sell their stories because Mr. Trump was well known and the most eligible bachelor and dated the most beautiful women,” Pecker said. “When someone runs a campaign like this, it is well known that these women would come forward to try to sell their stories to the National Enquirer.”

Pecker explained it was an off-the-books agreement that was “highly, highly confidential,” though he notified high-ranking editors at the publication.

“It wasn’t put into writing,” Pecker said.” It was just an agreement between friends.”

When Pecker notified one top editor, Dylan Howard, he testified that he explained: “Any stories out there about Donald Trump, vet the stories, bring them to me. We’ll have to speak to Michael Cohen, but we have to vet them first. I told him that we’re going to try to help the campaign and to do that I want to do this as quiet as possible.”

The agreement with Trump and Cohen to conceal bad stories about Trump also included a stipulation the tabloid would run negative pieces on Trump’s opponents — first his fellow Republicans in the presidential primary and then Hillary Clinton, the Democrat he bested in the 2016 general election, Pecker told jurors.

“We would like you to run a negative article, for example, Ted Cruz, and then he would send me negative information about [former HUD Secretary] Ben Carson or [Texas Sen.] Ted Cruz or [Florida Sen.] Marco Rubio and then that would be the basis of our story,” Pecker said. “Then we would embellish it.”

Pecker said he dealt with Cohen directly, not Trump.

“I assumed that he was talking to Mr. Trump, since Michael Cohen wasn’t part of the campaign. When he said ‘we,’ I always assumed he was talking about Mr. Trump.” Pecker said.

Steinglass introduced into evidence a series of hit-pieces on Trump’s primary opponents, including one headlined: “Bumbling surgeon Ben Carson left a sponge in patient’s brain.”

Pecker said he sent Cohen proofs of the articles before publication. Cohen offered feedback.

“After the Republican debates and based on the success some of the other candidates had, I would receive a call from Michael Cohen. He would direct me and direct Dylan Howard which direction we should go,” Pecker said.

Pecker also outlined how Dino Sadjudin, a door attendant at Trump Tower had alleged Trump fathered a daughter with a maid who worked for the ex-president. Pecker said he called Cohen to alert him.

“In August, we had our meeting, we had our agreement that anything that I heard in the marketplace that was going to be negative about Trump or his family that I would go to Michael Cohen,” Pecker said.

While Cohen instantly denied the veracity of the claim, the National Enquirer attempted to corroborate Sadjudin’s story.

The publication entered into a source agreement with Sadjudin that would guarantee its exclusive rights to publish the story for up to a period of 120 days, Pecker testified, and a $30,000 payment to Sadjudin was negotiated.

“This will be a very big story,” Pecker testified of his thinking at the time. “I think it should be removed from the marketplace.”

Pecker said Trump was aware of the story.

“I thought it was very important that Dino would not be shopping the story to other media outlets,” Pecker said. “Number 2, if the story was true and I published it, it would be the biggest story of the National Enquirer since the death of Elvis Presley. If the story came back as true, I would have published the story as soon as it was verified.”

But, Pecker added, he would have held his salacious scoop until after voters cast their ballots in the presidential election.

“I would have published it after the election," he said.

The trial is off on Wednesday but is slated to resume Thursday with Pecker taking the stand for a third day.

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