The seemingly bottomless pit of corruption tied to Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign just got substantially wider today as American Media, Inc., the parent company of The National Enquirer, admitted that it worked with the Trump campaign to suppress stories “about the presidential candidate’s relationships with women” and pledged to cooperate with federal prosecutors in exchange for a non-prosecution agreement for their involvement in the campaign finance violations that earned the president’s personal attorney Michael Cohen a three-year prison sentence earlier today.
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Prosecutors from the U.S. Sothern District of New York announced the non-prosecution agreement today after Cohen was sentenced and revealed that AMI, headed by publisher David Pecker — a close friend of President Trump until recently — closely coordinated with the Trump campaign from its inception in its efforts to prevent damaging stories about then-candidate Trump from reaching the public.
While news of the arrangement between the Enquirer publisher and Donald Trump to buy and kill the story of the president’s extra-marital fling with Playboy model Karen McDougal has been previously disclosed, new details emerged today, including the fact that “at least one unidentified campaign member joined Trump lawyer Michael Cohen in an August 2015 meeting with David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer, to discuss suppressing negative news stories during the election,” according to a report by Bloomberg News.
No longer just Cohen versus Trump. AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, backs Cohen on the record. We now have multiple witnesses saying Trump committed a felony to secure his election. https://t.co/Tg7JCXzKKa
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) December 12, 2018
The presence of an additional Trump campaign member at the meeting raises questions about the identity of that person who may also be facing the same type of campaign finance violations charges that Cohen was sentenced for today.
The deal that Cohen and his unidentified co-conspirator negotiated with Pecker called for AMI to be reimbursed the $150,000 that the company paid McDougal for her story and had AMI agreeing to execute a similar “catch and kill” scheme for any other negative stories about Trump that came their way.
“Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided,” the non-prosecution agreement states.
AMI’s admission in the agreement that the deal was specifically meant to influence the election corroborates Michael Cohen’s account of the transaction in his guilty plea to federal prosecutors and places President Trump in even deeper legal jeopardy than ever.
Trump has changed his own account of the payments made to the women he was sexually involved with while his third wife Melania was recovering from the birth of their son Barron, initially denying that the affairs occurred, then, when that lie became untenable, claiming he knew nothing about the payments.
After it was clear that the evidence seized by the FBI when they raided his attorney’s home and offices proved that he could not have been unaware of the payments, Trump switched to calling the arrangements with both McDougal and Stormy Daniels “private transactions” that did not violate any criminal campaign finance laws.
Today’s revelations contradict that interpretation of the situation according to legal experts.
“You now have AMI admitting that the payments were made for the purpose of influencing the election,” said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor not involved in the case. “It’s a critical admission because, if true, it transforms the payment into a criminal violation as opposed to simply a private transaction.”
The very existence of a non-prosecution agreement between AMI and the federal prosecutors shows that the government found Pecker’s cooperation helpful enough to offer the company immunity in this matter.
According to the agreement, AMI provided prosecutors with “substantial and important assistance.”
“AMI has made various personnel from AMI available for numerous interviews; engaged outside counsel to ensure the integrity of its compliance with and responses to subpoenas; and responded to numerous requests from prosecutors for various specific items of information.” the document states.
Given that the company failed to report the $150,000 payment to McDougal to the Federal Election Commission — a serious violation of the law —the cooperation must have been substantially valuable to the prosecutors to warrant a deal that avoids penalty in exchange for three years of continuing cooperation.
The biggest questions to emerge from this development today are who else in the Trump campaign is implicated in the criminal actions that AMI admitted to and when will we find out their identity. Grab the popcorn as the story continues.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.
Original reporting by David Voreacos, Chris Dolmetsch, and Gerry Smith at Bloomberg News.