American Media Inc, the tabloid company that publishes the National Enquirer, has reached an agreement with the US justice department enabling it to avoid prosecution for paying off a woman to prevent her from making “damaging allegations” about Donald Trump before the 2016 election
Under the agreement, AMI, led by David Pecker, a friend of Mr Trump, provided “substantial and important assistance” in the investigation into Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former lawyer, federal prosecutors said.
The announcement came as Mr Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in a scheme to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels, a porn star, and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, who sold her story to AMI's National Enquirer, the US tabloid fixture.
AMI has admitted to paying $150,000 to ensure that Ms McDougal did not publicise her allegations about Mr Trump. AMI “further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to . . . prevent it from influencing the election,” federal prosecutors in New York said on Wednesday.
During the investigation into Mr Cohen, Mr Pecker shared information with federal prosecutors about payouts to women to stop their stories from being published, according to people familiar with the situation.
Mr Pecker, AMI’s chief executive, is a longtime friend of Mr Trump, having met decades ago through mutual friends in Florida, where both men have homes. Under Mr Pecker’s watch the National Enquirer published positive stories about Mr Trump during his campaign for president, while running critical stories of his political rivals such as Ben Carson. In a recent profile in the New Yorker magazine, Mr Pecker described Mr Trump as a “personal friend of mine”.
In court documents, prosecutors had alleged that around August 2015 Mr Pecker offered to find, buy and suppress “negative stories about [Mr Trump’s] relationships with women” — an arrangement known as “catch and kill”.
AMI, which also owns titles like US Weekly and In Touch, has been repeatedly bailed out by creditors, after filing for bankruptcy protection in 2010, and is now majority-owned by Chatham Asset Management, a hedge fund. The National Enquirer’s circulation has fallen to under 500,000, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, down from 6m in the 1970s.
AMI declined to comment.
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