Pecker believed Trump would repay Playboy model hush money

Donald Trump sits in a Manhattan Criminal Courtroom with members of his legal team for the continuation of his hush money trial on April 25, 2024 in New York City. 

Spencer Platt | Via Reuters

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker on Thursday said he believed he would be reimbursed by Donald Trump if he purchased the story of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who claimed she had an extramarital affair with the former president.

Pecker, the first witness to take the stand in Trump’s New York criminal hush money trial, testified that he told the then-presidential candidate in a June 2016 phone call that he should buy the story to “take it off the market.”

Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen told Pecker in a follow-up conversation to purchase McDougal’s story, saying, “don’t worry, I’m your friend, the Boss will take care of it,” according to the testimony from the ex-CEO of American Media.

Pecker, who believed the story to be true, said he understood that to mean “that I would be either reimbursed by the Trump Organization or by Donald Trump.”

The former tabloid publisher also testified that the purpose of buying McDougal’s story was to suppress negative news about Trump before the 2016 election.

“We didn’t want the story to embarrass Mr. Trump or embarrass or hurt the campaign,” Pecker said.

He testified that American Media was never reimbursed for the payment to McDougal.

At the same time that Pecker is testifying, lawyers for Trump are arguing before the Supreme Court that he cannot be prosecuted in a federal election interference case in Washington, D.C., because he was president at the time the alleged crimes took place.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump watches as prosecutor Joshua Steinglass questions David Pecker during Trump’s criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S. April 25, 2024 in this courtroom sketch. 

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

The courtroom clash underscores the extent to which Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is weighed down by his copious legal battles while campaigning to unseat President Joe Biden.

Trump is required to be in Manhattan Supreme Court for his criminal trial. Judge Juan Merchan denied Trump’s request to skip at least part of the trial day Thursday to attend the Supreme Court oral arguments.

The trial, which began in earnest Monday with opening statements, is expected to last six weeks.

Trump is charged with falsifying business records as part of a scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had sex with Trump while he was married years earlier.

In his testimony Tuesday, Pecker detailed how he agreed to help Trump’s 2016 campaign by alerting the then-candidate of damaging information and working to keep it from the public. He described his involvement in a deal to pay a former Trump Tower doorman $30,000 for his story that Trump had fathered a child with his maid.

While he would conclude the story was untrue, Pecker said he bought the exclusive rights to the story in order to have it “removed from the market.”

“I made the decision to buy the story because of the potential embarrassment to the campaign and Mr. Trump,” he testified.

Pecker also said that he and his tabloid would “embellish” negative stories about Trump’s political rivals after being asked to do so by Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney at the time.

This is developing news. Check back for updates.