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Trump hush money trial Day 7: “National Enquirer’s” David Pecker to resume testimony

todayApril 25, 2024

Background

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media outside the courtroom during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 23, 2024 in New York City. (Curtis Means-Pool/Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker is set to return to the witness stand in Manhattan, New York on Thursday to continue his testimony about an alleged conspiracy with Donald Trump to identify and kill negative stories about the then-presidential candidate ahead of the 2016 election.

Earlier this week, Pecker told jurors that he became Trump’s “eyes and ears” during the election, allegedly transforming a supermarket tabloid into an extension of Trump’s presidential campaign by spending thousands of dollars to kill negative stories about Trump.

“I made the decision to buy the story because of the potential embarrassment it would have to the campaign,” Pecker testified on Tuesday about a $30,000 payment for a disproven story that Trump had an illegitimate child.

His testimony on Thursday is expected to touch on his involvement with a $130,000 alleged hush money payment to Stormy Daniels by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen; the documents related to Trump’s reimbursement to Cohen became the basis for the Manhattan district attorney’s 34-count criminal indictment against the former president. Trump had pleaded not guilty and denied all wrongdoing.

Thursday marks the third day of Pecker’s direct examination by prosecutors and comes as members of Trump’s legal team head to the Supreme Court to argue in favor of the former president’s claim of presidential immunity. Judge Juan Merchan previously denied a request from defense lawyers to permit Trump to attend the oral arguments in Washington, D.C.

“Your client is a criminal defendant in New York County Supreme Court. He is required to be here. He is not required to be in the Supreme Court,” Merchan said last Monday.

Pecker, who testified that he has a “great relationship” with Trump, said that the former president summoned him to Trump Tower in August 2015 for a meeting that became the genesis of the so-called “catch-and-kill” scheme alleged by prosecutors.

“At that meeting, Donald Trump and Michael, they asked me what can I do and what my magazines could do to help the campaign,” said Pecker, who agreed to run positive stories about Trump, put out negative stories about his opponents, and identify potentially damaging information about Trump.

According to Pecker, that agreement resulted in frequent negative articles in the National Enquirer about Trump’s opponents that were largely hatched by Cohen.

“[Cohen] would send me information about Ted Cruz or about Ben Carson or about Marco Rubio that was the basis of our story, and then we would embellish it from there,” Pecker said.

Positive stories about Trump included headlines like “Donald Trump: The Man Behind the Legend” and “John F. Kennedy’s Secret Son Endorses Donald Trump,” and false stories on Trump’s opponents featured stories like “Senator Marco Rubio’s Cocaine Collection” and “Leaked DNC Documents: Ted Cruz’s Father with JFK Assassin.”

“What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting? It’s horrible,” Trump told Fox and Friends about the fabricated story in 2016.

Pecker’s testimony has so far focused on two alleged hush-money payments — the first to a doorman who falsely alleged that Trump had a child out of wedlock with a housekeeper and the second to a former Playboy model Karen McDougal who is alleged to have had a months-long affair with Trump, which he has denied.

“If the story got out to another publication or another media outlet, it would have been very embarrassing to the campaign,” Pecker said about the decision to buy the rights to the doorman story for $30,000 despite determining it was false.

Pecker appeared to distance Trump from some of the alleged conduct during his testimony on Tuesday, suggesting he mainly dealt with Cohen when arranging the two payments and producing negative stories about Trump’s opponents.

“I would only work with Michael, so I don’t know who else he spoke to,” Pecker said. “He wasn’t part of the campaign, but I think he may have heard things informally, or he injected himself into.”

According to Pecker, Cohen grew anxious during the process of negotiating the McDougal payoff, which he attributed to pressure from Trump himself.

“He kept on calling; and each time he called, he seemed more anxious,” Pecker said. “I assumed that he had the conversation with Mr. Trump and … Mr. Trump was asking Michael Cohen, ‘Did we hear anything yet?’ This is only a theory on my part. I did not speak to Mr. Trump.”

Pecker detailed a phone call with Trump related to the McDougal story when he encouraged Trump to “take this story off the market.”

“Mr. Trump said to me, he said … ‘I don’t buy any stories,'” Pecker said. “He said that, ‘Any time you do anything like this, it always gets out.'”

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