Former tabloid publisher to face more questions in Trump hush-money trial

By Thomson Reuters Apr 26, 2024 | 5:09 AM

By Jack Queen, Jody Godoy and Andy Sullivan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker will answer more questions about his efforts to suppress damaging information about Donald Trump during the 2016 election, as the former president’s criminal hush-money trial continues on Friday.

Pecker, 72, will face questioning from Trump’s lawyers, who have sought to illustrate that the tabloid’s practice of burying unflattering stories about famous people was well established before Trump ran for president.

Pecker previously testified that he worked as Trump’s “eyes and ears” to suppress stories which could have hurt the businessman-turned-politician’s presidential bid at a time when he was facing multiple accusations of sexual misbehavior.

Pecker said his tabloid paid to “catch and kill” two of those stories and alerted Trump that porn star Stormy Daniels was also looking to sell her story of a sexual encounter with Trump.

New York prosecutors have charged Trump with falsifying business records to cover up a hush-money payment to Daniels. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies the encounter took place.

Trump’s lawyers sought on Thursday to illustrate to the jury that Pecker’s checkbook journalism was not confined to Trump.

Under questioning, Pecker said it was normal for celebrities and politicians to curry favor with the Enquirer to get good publicity and that he sought to kill negative stories about other famous figures, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods.

He said the Enquirer paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain stories from women who came forward during Schwarzenegger’s 2003 run for California governor to say they had affairs with him.

Pecker said the first time he gave Trump a heads up about a negative story was in 1998 in relation to Marla Maples, his wife at the time.

Pecker said he still considered Trump a friend, even though the two have not spoken since 2019.

Prosecutors say Pecker’s arrangement with Trump corrupted the 2016 election. He agreed to cooperate to avoid criminal charges.

Trump is the first former president to face criminal charges. The trial, which is expected to run through May, could be the only one of his four criminal prosecutions to be completed before his Nov. 5 rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

One of those cases, which charges Trump with trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden, has been delayed for months by the U.S. Supreme Court as it considers Trump’s argument that presidents should be immune for actions they take while in office.

In oral arguments on Thursday, justices on the conservative-majority court signaled support that Trump should have some level of protection from criminal charges.

(Reporting by Jack Queen and Jody Godoy in New York and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Daniel Wallis)