President Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, discussed a plan to prevent the National Enquirer’s parent company from publishing a trove of negative news items about Trump spanning decades, according to a new report from the New York Times.
Just ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Trump and Cohen discussed buying the rights to the story of a woman who claimed to have had an affair with him years earlier, to the tune of $150,000. The woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, had previously been paid that amount by American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, in a practice known as “catch-and-kill” — essentially, AMI purchased and buried her story, effectively silencing her.
The conversation in which Trump discussed purchasing McDougal’s story from AMI was since leaked to CNN in the form of an audio tape recorded by Cohen himself. However, a new report by The New York Times claims Trump had plans to buy not just McDougal’s story, but also the Enquirer’s entire archive of negative stories about him.
According to the Times, Trump and Cohen devised a plan in 2016, around the time of the McDougal conversation, to “buy up all the dirt on Mr. Trump that the National Enquirer and its parent company had collected on him, dating back to the 1980s.” The outlet cited several associates close to the president.
“The existence of the plan, which was never finalized, has not been reported before,” the Times wrote. “But it was strongly hinted at in a recording that Mr. Cohen’s lawyer released last month of a conversation about payoffs that Mr. Cohen had with Mr. Trump.”
In the recording, obtained by CNN in late July this year, Cohen can be overheard telling Trump he had “spoken to [Trump Organization CFO] Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding.”
“So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” Trump responds.
“Yes,” Cohen says. “Um, and it’s all the stuff.”
“Yeah, I was thinking about that,” Trump replies.
“All the stuff,” Cohen adds. “Because…you never know where that company — you never know what he’s–”
“Maybe he gets hit by a truck,” Trump finishes.
“Correct,” Cohen responds.
The phrase “all the stuff” was previously interpreted as referring specifically to McDougal’s story. But the Times report suggests Trump was actually referring more broadly to AMI’s entire library of negative stories about him, all of which had been shelved or buried. Whatever the purchase arrangement, it eventually fell through.
Last week, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to the McDougal payment as well as a $130,000 hush-money payment he made on behalf of Trump, ahead of the election, to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006.
AMI CEO David Pecker, a friend of Trump, was granted immunity by the federal prosecutors investigating Cohen’s payments, in exchange for his testimony on the matter. Pecker told prosecutors he had offered to run interference for Trump, to knock down stories that could hurt his shot at the White House.
The New York Times report suggests Trump and Cohen grew concerned that, if Pecker left the company, they would need a different tactic to bury these stories.
It’s unclear whether AMI still has any of the negative stories squirreled away or whether they were destroyed. According to the Times, federal prosecutors have not said if they obtained material “beyond that which pertains to Ms. McDougal and Ms. Clifford and the discussions about their arrangements.”