Trump hush-money trial: Ex-publisher testifies about his efforts to help former president

By Doug Cunningham & Ehren Wynder
Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he leaves his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on Thursday after former National Enquirer published David Pecker testified that hush money payments to Karen McDougal were made illegally to protect Trump's 2016 campaign. Pool Photo by Jefferson Siegel/UPI
1 of 8 | Former President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he leaves his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on Thursday after former National Enquirer published David Pecker testified that hush money payments to Karen McDougal were made illegally to protect Trump's 2016 campaign. Pool Photo by Jefferson Siegel/UPI | License Photo

April 25 (UPI) -- The third day of Trump's New York hush-money trial wrapped up Thursday with testimony from ex-National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.

Pecker on the third day of the trial testified that he purchased the rights to a story about an alleged affair Donald Trump had with a Playboy model so that it would not damage his 2016 presidential campaign.


Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked Pecker if the primary reason he purchased the rights to the story from Karen McDougal, who alleged the affair, was to influence the 2016 election. He replied "Yes, it was."

Pecker also testified that he was aware that "expenditures by a corporation made for the purpose of influencing an election" were unlawful.

Trump's defense objected, and a bench meeting was called, but Judge Juan Merchan overruled the objection.


Pecker then testified that he was aware such expenditures are unlawful.

He also testified that American Media Inc., the National Enquirer's parent company, checked with an election lawyer before wrapping up a hush money agreement for Trump with McDougal.

Prosecutors asked Pecker about AMI's handling of the McDougal payoff to establish proof under the elements of New York Election Law 17-152.

That law provides penalties for conspiratorial acts to promote or prevent a candidate's election through illegal means. Falsifying business records for that purpose is what prosecutors say happened.

District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office intends to show Trump broke the election law with allegedly falsified business records designed not only to conceal the hush-money payments to McDougal and Daniels but to help him win the election.

When asked if he was concerned about the legality of buying stories tied to a political candidate, Pecker said he was, because of a similar situation with Arnold Schwarzenegger during his run for governor of California.

Pecker testified that he agreed to acquire stories that could damage Schwarzenegger during his political campaign and that he would advise him on any stories involving him.

"It was a difficult situation, and it gave me the sensitivity about buying any stories in the future," Pecker said.


Pecker also testified that Trump inquired about McDougal during a dinner at the White House in 2017, asking, "wow's Karen doing?"

Pecker said he told him she's doing well and "she's quiet." He added Trump thanked him after the 2017 Trump Tower meeting for "handling the McDougal situation."

During cross-examination, Trump attorney Emil Bove asked Pecker to confirm AMI's business model, attempting to argue to the jury that Pecker's work with Trump was nothing out of the ordinary.

When Bove asked whether part of AMI's business model was to purchase stories, Pecker confirmed that was the case. Bove also confirmed source agreements giving AMI control of the information were "standard operating procedure" for the company.

Bove also highlighted Pecker's previous work suppressing a story that former Obama administration chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel had an affair in 2009.

Pecker has been on the witness stand for a little over five hours across three days of testimony, and lawyers on both sides signaled they would not be done with his testimony by the end of Thursday.

Bove said there's "a lot more to come."

Addressing reporters after leaving the courtroom Thursday, Trump called Pecker's testimony "amazing" and the proceedings "breathtaking."


"Open your eyes, we can't let this continue to happen to our country," he added, reiterating his belief that the trial should never have happened.

During testimony Tuesday Pecker detailed a scheme called "catch and kill" in which the National Enquirer would buy off people who had negative stories to tell about Trump by paying them for their stories to stop them from going public.

Pecker testified that he worked with Trump's attorney and "fixer" at the time, Michael Cohen.

Pecker said the role he and the National Enquirer played helped Trump's campaign, which is at the core of the prosecution's case.

Pecker also testified Tuesday that he would concoct fake negative news stories in the National Enquirer designed to hurt Trump's Republican primary opponents in the 2016 election.

He said Trump would send him phony information about Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, which the Enquirer would use to publish fake news stories to hurt them politically and help Trump.

Merchan also is considering whether Trump violated a gag order in the case 10 times, as the prosecution alleged.

Merchan's order says that, while the trial is underway, Trump can't make public statements about "counsel in the case other than the District Attorney, members of the court's staff and the District Attorney's staff, or the family members of any counsel, staff member, the Court or the District Attorney, if those statements are made with the intent to materially interfere with, or to cause others to materially interfere with, counsel's or staffs work in this criminal case."


Trump said if the judge orders fines for violating the gag order he doesn't know if he will pay them.

"I have no idea. They've taken my constitutional right away with a gag order. That's all it is. It's election interference," he said.

The order is limited in scope and does not prevent Trump from exercising First Amendment free speech rights.

Merchan before leaving the bench Thursday said there will be a hearing Wednesday on the gag order violations.

Trump is charged with 34 felonies alleging falsifying business records in order to facilitate hush money payments to McDougal and adult actress Stormy Daniels to keep their stories alleging affairs with Trump away from voters.

Trump has denied the affairs and pleaded not guilty to the alleged crimes.

Latest Headlines