Tabloid publisher tells Donald Trump hush money trial of deal to kill 'affair' story

A tabloid publisher has told how he sought to silence a former Playboy model from saying she had an affair with Donald Trump over fear it would hurt his 2016 presidential run.

Testifying at Mr Trump’s criminal hush money trial in New York, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker said: “I believed the story was true, I believed it would be very embarrassing for himself and also his campaign.”

Mr Pecker, 72, is a key prosecution witness in the case against the former US president, who is accused of falsifying business records to cover up a $130,000 (£104,000) payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an affair she alleges took place in 2006.

Mr Pecker, who has not been charged with a crime, earlier testified that the Enquirer acquired former Playboy model Karen McDougal's story of Mr Trump's alleged sexual misbehaviour but never published it - a practice known as "catch and kill" - in order to help Trump's electoral chances.

On Thursday, he said that after Ms McDougal told his editor that she had a year-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007, he advised Trump to buy her silence.

David Pecker testifies during former US President Donald Trump's criminal trial (REUTERS)
David Pecker testifies during former US President Donald Trump's criminal trial (REUTERS)

“He said, 'What do you think I should do?' I said, 'I think you should buy the story and take it off the market,'" Mr Pecker testified.

He said Michael Cohen, Mr Trump's personal lawyer, promised Mr Trump would pay for her story.

“He said to me, 'Don’t worry, I’m your friend. The boss will take care of it,” Mr Pecker said, adding that “the boss” referred to Mr Trump.

In the end, the National Enquirer ended up footing the bill, rather than Mr Trump. The paper's parent company, American Media, admitted in 2018 that it paid her $150,000 for her story, which was never published.

Ms McDougal is expected to testify later in the trial, along with Mr Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who says he arranged the Ms Daniels payment and was reimbursed by Mr Trump.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts and denied having an affair with Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. He has also denied having an affair with Ms McDougal.

Hush money payments themselves are not illegal, and Trump's lawyers have argued the Daniels payout was personal and unrelated to his campaign.

But prosecutors say that the payment was a campaign expense that should have been disclosed.

The trial is the first of a former US president and comes as Mr Trump prepares for a November election rematch with President Joe Biden and fends off three other criminal indictments, to which he has also pleaded not guilty.

Also on Thursday, the US Supreme Court heard Mr Trump's arguments that he is immune from prosecution for actions taken as president, an appeal that has held up his prosecution on charges related to his attempts to reverse his 2020 election defeat.

Mr Trump is required to be present for the New York trial and Justice Juan Merchan denied his request to attend the Supreme Court arguments.