Hush money trial against Trump: editor of Scandalblatt testifies

In the New York criminal trial against former US President Donald Trump, a key witness testified on Thursday about how he prevented reporting on the Republican's sex affair with a “Playboy” model. “We bought the story so that no one else would publish it,” said David Pecker, who was friends with Trump at the time and was the editor of the National Enquirer. “We didn't want the story to embarrass Mr. Trump or harm his campaign.”

The trial revolves around the cover-up of a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. It is the first criminal trial in history against a former US president. The prosecution argues that the payment to Stormy Daniels was not an isolated incident, but was part of a system that Trump used to keep other information negative for him under wraps.

The 72-year-old Pecker's statement points to a hush money payment to “Playboy” model Karen McDougal. Pecker said in court that Trump's then-lawyer Michael Cohen encouraged him to buy the exclusive rights to the story – and when Pecker asked about reimbursement of his costs, he replied: “The boss will take care of it.” The repayments were disguised as services to the National Enquirer's parent company, American Media.

Accordingly, transfers amounting to $150,000 were made in the 2016 election year to intercept McDougal's story and prevent reporting. Pecker spoke of “catch and kill”, in German: “catch and kill”. The “catch and kill” strategy is at the heart of the case: Trump is accused of buying the silence of people with potentially harmful information – with the larger goal of influencing the presidential election in 2016.

According to Pecker, McDougal received not only money but also a deal to appear on magazine covers and write fitness columns.

Pecker had previously stated that at a meeting in August 2015 with Trump, Cohen and Trump's assistants, an “agreement between friends” was reached according to which the tabloid should suppress negative stories about Trump.

The expected renewed presidential candidate of the US Republicans is accused in the proceedings of having covered up the hush money of $130,000 (122,000 euros at today's rate) to Stormy Daniels by forging business documents.

Through the payment, the former porn actress was kept silent about an alleged sex affair that she said she had had with Trump in 2006, when Trump was already married to his current wife Melania and had recently had their son Barron with her.

Prosecutors argue that the payment to the porn star and the falsification of business documents were intended to keep information potentially damaging to Trump from the electorate. The indictment accuses the real estate entrepreneur of 34 counts of forgery.

The 77-year-old is facing criminal charges in three other cases. Two of these cases involve his massive attempts to retroactively overturn his 2020 election defeat against current President Joe Biden, and another case concerns his taking secret government documents to his private residence in the US state of Florida. It is unclear when trials on these three other charges might begin.