It was first reported a few months ago that AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, had a safe full of Trump secrets.
The National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election, people familiar with the arrangement told The Associated Press.
The detail came as several media outlets reported on Thursday that federal prosecutors had granted immunity to National Enquirer chief David Pecker, potentially laying bare his efforts to protect his longtime friend Trump.
These were stories about Trump whose rights AMI had bought for the sole purpose of never running them, in order to make sure the public never found out about them. This is often referred to as “catch and kill”, where the rights to a story will be purchased with the intent to never actually run the story.
Several people familiar with the National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because they signed non-disclosure agreements, said the safe was a great source of power for Pecker, the company’s CEO.
The Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities’ catch-and-kill deals, in which exclusive rights to people’s stories were bought with no intention of publishing to keep them out of the news. By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return.
These stories were apparently removed from the AMI safe just before the inauguration:
But after The Wall Street Journal initially published the first details of Playboy model Karen McDougal’s catch-and-kill deal shortly before the 2016 election, those assets became a liability. Fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker and the company’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration, according to one person directly familiar with the events.
The AP cannot say whether the documents were destroyed or simply were moved to a location known to fewer people.
American Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It appears two people knew about what was done with the stories, the CEO David Pecker, and the Chief Content Officer, Dylan Howard. The news about the safe came out in August because one of those two people, David Pecker, was granted immunity from prosecution because he was cooperating with federal investigators:
David Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc., has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors in a deal that led to him describing President Donald Trump’s role in hush agreements with women ahead of the 2016 election, according to The Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair.
But, it was unknown at the time just how broad the cooperation was. For example, was it just David Pecker that was cooperating, or was all of AMI cooperating? This was important because if it was just David Pecker that was cooperating, it was possible that, if the stories weren’t in his possession, they might not be part of the immunity deal.
Well now we know. In fact, all of AMI appears to have been involved with the immunity deal:
With the revelation by prosecutors on Wednesday that a tabloid publisher admitted to paying off a Playboy model, key participants in two hush-money schemes say the transactions were intended to protect Donald J. Trump’s campaign for president.
“A.M.I. further admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” prosecutors said in a statement announcing they had struck a deal not to charge the company in exchange for its cooperation. As part of the deal, dated in September but previously kept private, the company also agreed to train employees in election law standards and appoint a qualified lawyer to vet future deals that may involve paying for stories about political candidates.
And the other person who removed the Trump stories from the safe, Dylan Howard, was also specifically named as having been granted immunity:
In admitting to the scheme, Mr. Pecker, his lieutenant Dylan Howard and A.M.I. are now protected from criminal prosecution.
So, now some questions remain. First off, what happened to the Trump stories? Were they destroyed? If not, do federal investigators have them?
And, of course, the question most people are wondering: what were the other stories? Knowing the National Enquirer, they could have been stories on just about anything. Were they stories about Trump’s long-time relationship with sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein? Were they stories that involved additional sexual harassment claims against Donald Trump? Were they stories that involved Trump Model Management? Were they stories about Trump making racist comments, such as while working on the Apprentice? Were they stories that involved tax fraud? Were they stories that involved Russian money laundering and/or the Russian mafia? Were they stories that involved collusion with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election? Could they be about things nobody even suspects? The possibilities are truly endless with Donald Trump.
Maybe the public will never find out what those stories were about. But, one thing is for certain, the assurances Trump probably felt previously by the fact that the National Enquirer had “caught and killed” those stories, are no longer in place. Trump has to be wondering if the answer to the question of whether or not the public will find out about those stories could now be: yes.