The New York Times reveals that it wasn’t just a story about one or two of Trump’s pervy affairs that candidate Donald Trump and “fixer” Michael Cohen wanted to buy from the National Enquirer and its parent company during Trump’s presidential campaign. It was Donald Trump’s entire sordid hidden history—every story the media outlet ever caught and buried for him since the 1980s. Trump and Cohen were trying to negotiate a plan to buy and kill all those stories at once.
The plan got far enough along that Mr. Cohen relays in the recorded conversation that he had discussed paying for all the information from American Media with the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.
“I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” he says, adding about Mr. Pecker, “We’ll have to pay him something.”
American Media chairslug David Pecker was the point person on American Media’s end. It was Pecker that orchestrated the catch-and-kill of stories during his two-decade tenure at the company that owns the National Enquirer but the Trump stories he was hiding, materials apparently tucked away in an office safe, went back even further than that. Nobody knows where the materials in that safe currently are, whether they were destroyed or handed over to prosecutors or simply moved to another location, but Pecker has now been said to have been granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation with the ongoing investigation.
He’ll need it. Federal prosecutors obtained guilty pleas from Cohen for his role in covering up the Trump affairs; secretly paying off individuals in exchange for their silence on matters that could have, and would have, affected the Trump presidential campaign count as criminal violations of campaign finance law. Pecker’s role in those arrangements would therefore be criminal too, and the further use of his company to hide decades of similarly explosive stories about Trump, in exchange for even more election-year cash, would only compound the violations.
With every revelation, this particular branch of the federal investigation seems to get a little bigger.
Prosecutors gave Pecker immunity even though he could seemingly have been convicted alongside Cohen with a minimum of fuss, but they never needed him to testify against Cohen; it’s something else they’re after. The arrangement Cohen was making was for the Trump Organization itself to hand out secret payments for burying these election-year stories: for those egregious campaign finance violations, done on Trump’s behalf by those working directly under him, it’s the whole Trump Organization that’s now in prosecutor’s crosshairs. (Chief financial officer Weisselberg was granted limited immunity in exchange for his own cooperation in the Cohen probe; it is not likely that he will be able to detach himself from prosecutors before providing them information on other corporate adventures.)
David Pecker and those around him have, in a phrase, really stepped in it this time. He and the forever-crooked National Enquirer have been the crooked shame of grocery aisles for decades now, but the use of crooked media companies to bury unflattering news about wealthy people while inventing unflattering stories about their social or corporate enemies is nothing new, and cannot usually be counted as federal crime. The use of a media organization as an undisclosed arm of a campaign, however—taking orders from that campaign, or its candidate, or a corporate entity controlled by that candidate in exchange for undisclosed payments—most certainly is a federal crime, and it’s that distinction that may land multiple parties in severe legal trouble regardless of whether Pecker has managed to slime his way out of jail time.
After the Cohen guilty plea, indictments of key figures in the Trump Organization itself now seem inevitable. There’s very little chance prosecutors would give a grotesquery like Pecker such a valuable get-out-of-jail-free card unless they were after some even bigger fish, and Cohen’s on-tape confirmation that he was discussing these payments with officers inside the Trump Organization is not something prosecutors can, or will, ignore.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.