The National Enquirer’s parent company paid out $30,000 to a former doorman at one of President’s Trump’s New York properties at the height of the Republican presidential primary campaign, in order to prevent him from speaking out about a rumor he’d heard regarding Trump’s sex life, the Associated Press reported on Thursday. According to the outlet, longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen also knew about the matter and spoke with the tabloid before it ultimately decided to quash the story.
The AP report details how American Media Inc. (AMI) paid ex-doorman Dino Sajudin to sign over the rights, “in perpetuity,” to a rumor about Trump allegedly having fathered a child with a Trump World Tower employee. If Sajudin ever spoke out about the rumor or disclosed the stipulations behind the $30,000 payout, he would have been forced to pay a $1 million penalty.
Speaking with AP reporters, Cohen confirmed that he had discussed Sajudin’s account with the National Enquirer while the tabloid was still working on it, but denied knowing about the payment beforehand.
AMI executive Dylan Howard, who currently serves as the Enquirer’s chief content officer, told reporters last summer that executives supposedly made the payment to Sajudin in order to secure the tip, which he said would have sold “hundreds of thousands” of magazines. He claimed the tabloid later decided to spike the story because it could not verify Sajudin’s account, and released the ex-doorman from his contract — just after the 2016 election.
“When we realized we would be unable to publish, and other media outlets approached the source about his tale, we released Sajudin from the exclusivity clause that had accompanied his $30,000 payment, freeing him to tell his story to whomever he wanted,” Howard told Radar Online — the Enquirer’s sister site — this week. “Many organizations have since tried [to publish his account]. …We’re flattered by this attention, and wish that it were true. Unfortunately, however, Dino Sajudin is one fish that swam away.”
Whether or not Sajudin’s account is true, the revelation that AMI effectively paid the ex-doorman what amounted to “hush-money” is the latest in an emerging pattern of schemes to “catch-and-kill” negative stories about the president, which may have hurt his chances at the presidency. So far, various outlets have documented at least three separate instances in which people close to the president made a concentrated effort to scrub damaging stories and portray the then-candidate in a more positive light, ahead of pivotal moments along the campaign.
Eight months after AMI paid Sajudin, for instance, the media company also paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for a story about an alleged affair she’d had with Trump in 2006, which ultimately never ran. The media company later said it paid McDougal for a series of “fitness columns and magazine covers.”
AMI CEO David Pecker is close friends with Trump and the Enquirer endorsed him for president during the 2016 election.
The development also places Cohen at the center of yet another scandal involving payments to individuals with information damaging to Trump. Aside from his part in the Sajudin account, Cohen was also indirectly linked to AMI’s payment to McDougal in 2016. Although Cohen claims he had no part in the payment negotiations, the attorney was reportedly told of McDougal’s intent to share her story; her lawyer at the time, Keith Davidson, also kept Cohen apprised of the negotiation process throughout.
McDougal, who recently shared details of the alleged affair with CNN, later said she believed Davidson was more concerned about Cohen and Trump’s interests than her own. She is currently suing AMI to invalidate her contract, claiming that she was convinced to sign under false pretenses, and that Cohen and AMI worked secretly with Davidson as part of a “broad effort to silence and intimidate” her.
Cohen has also been linked directly to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, to whom he paid $130,00 in October 2016, weeks before the presidential election. Daniels, who claims to have had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006, was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement barring her from speaking out about the alleged affair, although she and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, have since claimed the NDA is moot because Trump himself did not sign the document.
The FBI on Monday, acting on a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, raided Cohen’s hotel room, office, and New York residence in search of documents related to both Daniels’ and McDougal’s payments. According to a New York Times report on Tuesday, agents were specifically searching for information “related to the publisher of The National Enquirer’s role in silencing one of the women.”
Cohen is currently under investigation by Mueller’s office for his ties to the Trump campaign, which is alleged to have conspired with Russian officials to win the 2016 election.
UPDATE, 3:50 p.m. Eastern Time: Ex-Trump property doorman Dino Sajudin released a statement on Thursday afternoon, addressing the Associated Press report and his $30,000 agreement with American Media Inc.
The former TT doorman stands by his story of Trump’s alleged affair. pic.twitter.com/QkY8RBfYnB
— Sonia Moghe (@soniamoghe) April 12, 2018
“Today I awoke to learn that a confidential agreement that I had with AMI (The National Enquirer) with regard to a story about President Trump was leaked to the press,” he said. “I can confirm that while working at Trump World Tower, I was instructed not to criticize President Trump’s former housekeeper due to a prior relationship she had with President Trump which produced a child.”
According to CNN producer Sonia Moghe, Sajudin’s agreement was amended in December 2016 to allow him to speak publicly about his story. The agreement still prohibited him from discussing the details of his contract with AMI.