Crime, Law and Justice

Ex-National Enquirer publisher testifies against Donald Trump in hush money trial

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker speaks from the witness stand during Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, on Monday, in this courtroom sketch.
Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker speaks from the witness stand during Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, on Monday, in this courtroom sketch.
Jane Rosenberg

David Pecker was once the publisher of one of America's largest tabloids. But on Monday, Pecker's old role took on a new light: as the first witness to testify in a criminal trial against a former U.S. president.

Pecker is the former CEO of American Media Inc., which until 2019, was the publishing company of the National Enquirer magazine. He is now the first witness to testify against Donald Trump, the presumptive 2024 GOP presidential nominee, in a trial accusing the former president of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records with the intent to further other crimes. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Pecker's testimony is scheduled to continue on Tuesday.

On Monday, the prosecution's opening statements told the story of how they believe Pecker, Trump and Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen conspired using a so-called "catch and kill" scheme in August of 2015 to bury negative stories that could be damaging to Trump's 2016 electoral prospects and promote articles in the tabloid that were negative about his opponents.

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said the evidence will show that Pecker found potentially damaging info through his tabloid network and then reported back to Trump and Cohen.

This includes payments to Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, who was going to allege publicly she had an affair with Trump and allegations of an affair by adult film star Stormy Daniels.

His testimony could corroborate Cohen's, which the defense is already seeking to discredit. Pecker is also likely to testify about the plan for him to pay McDougal, which Trump did not reimburse him for. This sets up the context for Cohen paying Daniels, which the prosecutors argue happened because Pecker wouldn't pay a second time.

Pecker, who was on the stand for less than a half hour before the first day wrapped at around lunchtime, testified to the editorial structure of his magazine and about the level of oversight he had on the stories. He also confirmed his phone numbers, which the prosecution suggested could be relevant later on.

In 2018, Pecker was granted immunity in exchange for providing federal prosecutors with information about the payments. American Media, Inc. at the time admitted that it helped arrange payments to McDougal and later was sold amid the scandal of their involvement with the Trump campaign and federal investigations.

Andrea Bernstein contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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