First witness in Trump trial, former National Enquirer publisher, testifies that he paid for fake stories, including ones about Trump

"We discovered that it was absolutely, 1000% untrue," Pecker said of a story he paid for.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

The trial in Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s falsified business records case against Donald Trump began on Tuesday with witness David Pecker, former chairman of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, taking the stand for a second day. Pecker began his testimony on Monday afternoon, speaking for less than 30 minutes before the court broke for the day.

During his testimony, Pecker said that he paid a doorman for a story about an alleged out-of-wedlock child Trump had to prevent it from being published. "We discovered that it was absolutely, 1000% untrue," Pecker said, according to Reuters.

Pecker was also questioned on the origins of a photo and story allegedly showing Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, with Lee Harvey Oswald. The two were allegedly in New Orleans in 1963 handing out pro-Fidel Castro pamphlets, not long before Oswald would go on to assassinate President John F Kennedy, according to NBC News. Cruz at the time was a 2016 Republican primary candidate.

"We mashed the photos and the different pictures with Lee Harvey Oswald. And mashed the two together. And that’s how that story was prepared — created I would say," Pecker testified. He also testified that Michael Cohen would send him a piece about Cruz, for example, and the National Enquirer "would embellish it from there." 

Pecker testified on Tuesday that he has known Trump since the 1980s, identifying him in the court room as "sitting, wearing, I think, a dark blue suit," according to CNN. He said that he’s "had a great relationship with Mr. Trump over the years," and that he had a "lot of dealing and discussion with Mr. Trump as a celebrity in his own right" before Pecker acquired the National Enquirer in 1999.

Pecker said that he had considered Trump a friend until at least 2017, and that he saw Trump "more frequently" after he announced he was running for president. Before that, he saw Trump monthly or quarterly.

He testified that he saw Trump review and sign invoices and checks, and described Trump as "very knowledgeable. I would describe him as very detailed oriented. I would describe him, almost, as a micromanager — he looked at all aspects of whatever the issue was." He also said that Trump was "very cautious, very frugal."

Pecker said he first met Cohen at a bar mitzvah in 2000, and that Trump introduced Cohen as his new hire to Pecker in 2007. He said that Trump told him "that now my contacts should go through Michael Cohen."

"If there was any rumors in the marketplace about Mr. Trump or his family or any negative stories that were coming out or things that I heard overall that I would go through, I would call Michael Cohen directly," he testified.

Pecker testified that his contact with Cohen increased to "a minimum of every week" after Trump announced his campaign. "If there was an issue, it could be daily." Cohen also invited Pecker to Trump's campaign announcement.

Pecker testified that he received a call about meeting with Cohen and Trump at Trump Tower in August 2015.

"I received a call from Michael Cohen saying the boss wanted to see me."

Pecker testified, "At the meeting, Donald Trump and Michael (Cohen), they asked me, what can I do, and what my magazines could do, to help the campaign?" He said he "would be your eyes and ears."

He said he also offered at the meeting to notify Michael Cohen of negative stories about Trump or "anything about women selling stories."

"Anything that I hear in the marketplace — if I hear anything negative about yourself or if I hear anything about women selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen as I did over the last several years," Pecker said.

"And Michael Cohen — then he would be able to have them killed in another magazine or have them not be published or somebody would have to purchase them," he added.

Explaining why he suggested this, Pecker said, "In a presidential campaign, I was the person that thought that there would be a lot of women would come out to try to sell their stories, because Mr. Trump was well known as the most eligible bachelor, and dated the most beautiful women."

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked Pecker a series of questions regarding whether he offered to publish positive stories about Trump, negative stories about his opponents, and alert to any possibly damaging information, to which Pecker responded yes.

"I think it was a mutual benefit. It would help his campaign, and it would also help me."

Pecker testified that he would notify Cohen about a negative story, Cohen would see if the story was true or not, and then contact the individual publication to try to make sure the story wasn’t published.

He also testified that he did not purchase a story about Trump to make sure it wasn’t published prior to August 2015. He also said the agreements with Trump were not written down because "it was just an agreement among friends," and that he told then-editor-in-chief of the National Enquirer Dylan Howard that "the agreement that I made has to be highly, highly confidential."

The jury was shown a series of National Enquirer articles praising Trump, as well as negative stories about Trump’s opponents in the Republican primary at the time.

Pecker said Cohen would "call me and say, 'We would like you to run a negative article on a certain' — let’s say for argument sake — on Ted Cruz then he — Michael Cohen — would send me information about Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Marco Rubio, and that was the basis of our story and then we would embellish it from there."

He later testified, “When we were preparing an article, we’d communicate what we were doing at the direction of the article from Michael Cohen, and we would also send him the PDFs of the story before it was published,” he testified.

After a short break, Steinglass asked Pecker about the story of doorman Dino Sajudin, who was selling a story alleging that Trump had an illegitimate child.

"I immediately called Michael Cohen and I described to him exactly what I was told by Dylan [Howard]," Pecker said.

Pecker testified that Cohen responded, "Absolutely not true, but I’ll check it out."

He said Cohen called him back, telling him he verified that the two names were on the payroll and asked Pecker to check out the story. He said he asked Howard "to negotiate a number, a price to buy the story and take it off the market." He said Howard negotiated to pay $30,000 for the story. Pecker said he called Cohen to inform him, with Cohen asking who would pay for the story.

Pecker said that when he agreed to buy the story, Cohen said, "The boss will be very pleased." Pecker, when questioned by Steinglass, explained that "The boss would be Donald Trump."

"If the story came back true, I would have published the story shortly after it was verified," Pecker said, adding that he would have held on to the story until after the presidential election. "That was the conversation I had with Michael Cohen and that’s what we agreed to," Pecker said.

If the article "got out to another publication or another media outlet," Pecker said, "it would have been very embarrassing to the campaign."

Pecker also testified about former Playboy model Karen McDougal, saying that Howard came to him in June 2016 saying he "received a call from one of his major sources in California that there’s a Playboy model who is trying to sell a story about a relationship that she had with Donald Trump for a year," adding that it was a "romantic relationship."

Steinglass asked Pecker whether Howard believed the relationship had a "sexual component," to which Pecker responded, "yes, he thought that, but he didn’t know at that time."

Pecker said that Cohen, when told about the story, said "it’s untrue, absolutely untrue. Pecker said he suggested to Cohen that they vet the story, and Cohen agreed. Pecker said he asked Howard to interview McDougal in California to find out the details.

Around the time of the McDougal allegations, Pecker said he was speaking with Cohen nearly every day, sometimes a few times per day. He testified that Cohen told him they shouldn’t talk on a landline, and that they switch to Signal instead.

He also testified that Cohen told him he "wasn’t part of the campaign" and instead of "on the outside" as Trump’s attorney, with Pecker adding that Cohen appeared to play an informal role or "injected himself into it."

"Michael was physically in every aspect of whatever the campaign was working on, at least at Trump Organization at Trump Tower, at least when he was physically there," Pecker said.

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