US PRESIDENT Donald Trump was personally involved in arranging hush money to a porn star and a Playboy centrefold despite his repeated denials that he was aware of the details, according to a bombshell report published on Friday.
The future president met with his longtime friend David Pecker, publisher of the National Enquirer, at Trump Tower in August 2015 and asked Mr Pecker how the publisher could help his campaign, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Mr Pecker, head of American Media, the tabloid’s parent company, offered to use his National Enquirer to buy the silence of women if they tried to publicise alleged affairs with Mr Trump, the paper reported, citing information discovered by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.
Less than a year later, Mr Trump asked Mr Pecker to quash the story of former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said they’d had an affair in 2006, when Mr Trump was married to his third wife, Melania.
AMI soon paid $150,000 to Ms McDougal to shut her up — and Mr Trump later thanked him for his help, the paper reported.
The report provides a blow-by-blow account of the negotiations that led to that payoff and another to porn vixen Stormy Daniels based on testimony of Mr Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, and interviews with “three dozen people who have direct knowledge of the events or who have been briefed on them, as well as court papers, corporate records and other documents,” the paper reported.
Mr Cohen, who implicated Mr Trump when the lawyer pleaded guilty to eight federal charges in August, has met with investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller and with federal prosecutors in New York, seeking to provide information that could result in a lighter punishment at his sentencing, which is scheduled for Dec. 12.
He told the feds he spoke with Mr Trump in the weeks before the 2016 election about paying Ms Daniels to keep quiet about her allegations of a sexual encounter with Trump at a charity golf outing, also in 2006.
He told them that Mr Trump urged him to “get it done,” and that he later made a $130,000 payment himself because Ms Pecker had refused, and that he was later reimbursed — with a bonus — by the Trump Organization.
The Journal reported that Mr Trump was involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the pay-offs, directing the deals in phone calls and meetings with Mr Cohen and others.
The president has repeatedly denied having affairs with Ms McDougal and Ms Daniels, calling them liars.
He at first said he knew nothing of the payments before belatedly disclosing that Mr Cohen was reimbursed for Ms Daniels’ payment in a federal financial disclosure form.
On Thursday, the White House referred questions about Mr Trump’s involvement in the hush deals to the president’s outside counsel Jay Sekulow, who declined to comment.
Mr Tump’s involvement in the payments, by itself, wouldn’t mean he is guilty of federal crimes, Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, who specialises in election law, told the paper.
A criminal conviction would require proof that Mr Trump willfully ignored legal bans on contributions from companies or individuals larger than $2,700, he said.
This article originally appeared in the New York Postand has been reproduced here with permission.