National Enquirer’s David Pecker testifies in Trump trial: 5 takeaways

Former President Trump’s trial was dominated on Tuesday by the testimony of former magazine executive David Pecker.

Pecker was previously the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid. In that role, he engaged in the unusual practice of “catch and kill” — in essence securing the rights to publish a story in order to quash it.

Pecker testified he did this to assist Trump.

His testimony was part of the first-ever criminal trial of an American president.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The underlying events relate to a payment of $130,000 to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election campaign.

The money was intended to stop Daniels from going public with her allegation that she had a sexual encounter with Trump roughly a decade previously.

The payment to Daniels was made by Trump’s then-attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. Later, legal retainer payments totaling $420,000 were made from Trump’s business to Cohen.

The prosecution’s case is that these were falsely filed as business expenses with the aim of concealing the fact Daniels had been paid off.

Trump, who denies having sex with Daniels or doing anything legally improper, has claimed the payments were legitimate legal expenses and that he is being victimized.

Here are the main takeaways from Tuesday’s testimony.

The inside scoop on how a tabloid helped Trump

Former President Trump walks with his attorney Todd Blanche in Manhattan criminal court in New York on April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid, Associated Press, Pool)

The most striking thing about Pecker’s testimony was how directly he spoke about his efforts to use his magazine’s power to help Trump.

He put flesh on the bones of other stories, besides that of Daniels, where the tabloid had engaged in catch-and-kill tactics.

Considerable time was spent on the tale of Dino Sajudin, a former doorman at Trump Tower who contended that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock.

“I made the decision to purchase the story because of the potential embarrassment it had to the campaign and to Mr. Trump,” Pecker testified.

Pecker and his staff ultimately concluded Sajudin’s story was untrue. According to reporters in the court, mentions of it seemed to irritate Trump.

But the National Enquirer’s power wasn’t solely about silencing stories that could be helpful to Trump. It also ran stories that damaged his rivals for the 2016 GOP nomination. 

In Pecker’s account, Cohen would call him suggesting the tabloid target candidates who seemed to be posing the biggest threat to Trump. 

One example was a story suggesting falsely — and somewhat absurdly — that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) father was somehow connected to the assassination of President Kennedy.

Trump and the Enquirer — friends with benefits

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FILE – In this Jan. 31, 2014 photo, David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media, addresses those attending the Shape & Men’s Fitness Super Bowl Party in New York. (Marion Curtis via AP, File)

The relationship between Trump and the National Enquirer was not a one-way street, according to Pecker.

His close relationship with the then-candidate helped fuel newsstand sales. 

Trump, who has in the past called himself a “ratings machine” on TV, appears to have had a similar impact upon the Enquirer’s sales.

A prosecutor on Tuesday displayed screenshots of some of the Trump headlines that emerged from this cozy relationship. The Associated Press noted the headlines included “Donald Dominates!” and “World Exclusive: the Donald Trump Nobody Knows.”

There were other instances where the interests of the former president and the former magazine publisher were aligned. 

Pecker testified that stories delving into the marriage of former President Clinton and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton were also a big hit — such as headlines that tagged Bill Clinton as a “womanizer.”

They also had the potential to hurt Hillary Clinton as she ran against Trump.

“I was running Hillary as an enabler for Bill Clinton,” Pecker testified.

Prosecutors seek to make their wider case

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LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 06: Elliot Mintz, Peggy McIntaggart, and Karen McDougal are seen on September 06, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

The story of the doorman is in one sense irrelevant to Trump’s guilt or innocence. The same can be said of another deal Pecker did with a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who has also claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Trump.

The criminal charges Trump faces pertain to the Stormy Daniels matter, not either of the other two.

But the other details are important nonetheless.

Prosecutors are hoping to demonstrate that, in each of these cases, Trump was motivated by a fear that the stories could damage his electoral fortunes.

If the jurors believe this, it would give the prosecution a far better chance of making felony charges stick.

Falsification of business records is only a misdemeanor unless prosecutors can prove it was done in furtherance of another crime. 

Trump is not charged with any other crime in this case, but prosecutors want to paint his actions as an attempt to influence the election by concealing from voters something they would otherwise have known.

No ruling yet on whether Trump violated a gag order

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Judge Juan Merchan poses for a picture in his chambers, Thursday, March 14, 2024, in New York. A dozen Manhattan residents are soon to become the first Americans ever to sit in judgment of a former president charged with a crime. Jury selection is set to start Monday in former President Donald Trump’s hush-money trial. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Tuesday wasn’t all about David Pecker. 

The morning was largely given over to exchanges about whether Trump had violated the terms of a gag order in the case.

Judge Juan Merchan has yet to rule on the question.

The gag order Merchan issued last month bars Trump from attacking people involved in the case, including witnesses, court officials and members of the judge’s family — the last stipulation an apparent reaction to Trump’s attacks on Merchan’s daughter Loren, for her work relating to political consultancy for Democrats.

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Prosecutors allege Trump has breached the order 10 times. They are seeking a fine of $1,000 for each violation. Trump’s team argue he is replying to the comments made about him, which he has a right to do.

In the process of the legal tangling over the issue, Trump’s legal team acknowledged that other people sometimes post stories onto Trump’s Truth Social account.

Trump has his say — sort of

The former president does not appear to be enjoying having to sit in court each day of his trial without getting the chance to rebut allegations for himself, according to reporters.

On Tuesday, after the day’s proceedings were done, he complained to the assembled media about the gag order. He said that he was being stopped from being able to “defend myself.”

“I’d love to say anything that’s on my mind, but I’m restricted,” he added.

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