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Tabloid Publisher Says He Pledged to Be Trump Campaign's 'Eyes and Ears' During 2016 Race
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By Associated Press
Published 1 month ago on
April 23, 2024

Tabloid publisher David Pecker testifies about his role in suppressing harmful stories during Trump's 2016 campaign, highlighting the close relationship between the two. (AP/Yuki Iwamura)

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NEW YORK — A veteran tabloid publisher testified Tuesday that he pledged to be Donald Trump’s “eyes and ears” during his 2016 presidential campaign, recounting how he promised the then-candidate that he would help suppress harmful stories and even arranged to purchase a doorman’s silence.

The testimony from David Pecker was designed to bolster prosecutors’ assertions of a decades-long friendship between Trump and the former publisher of the National Enquirer that culminated in an agreement to give the candidate’s lawyer a heads-up on negative tips and stories so they could be quashed.

Pecker is the first witness in Trump’s history-making hush money trial in Manhattan, where he faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with payments meant to prevent harmful stories from surfacing during the final days of the 2016 campaign.

The effort to suppress unflattering information was designed to illegally influence the election, prosecutors have alleged in seeking to elevate the gravity of the first trial of a former American president and the first of four criminal cases against Trump to reach a jury.

With Trump sitting just feet away in the courtroom, Pecker detailed his intimate, behind-the-scenes involvement in Trump’s rise from political novice to the Republican nomination and then the White House. He explained how he and the National Enquirer parlayed rumor-mongering into splashy tabloid stories that smeared Trump’s opponents and, just as crucially, leveraged his connections to suppress seamy stories about Trump, including a porn actor’s claim of an extramarital sexual encounter a decade earlier.

Origins of Trump-Pecker Relationship

Pecker traced the origins of their relationship to a 1980s meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and said the friendship bloomed alongside the success of the real estate developer’s TV show “The Apprentice” and the program’s subsequent celebrity version.

Their ties were solidified during a pivotal August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower involving Trump, his lawyer and personal fixer Michael Cohen, and another aide, Hope Hicks, in which Pecker was asked what he and the magazines he led could do for the campaign.

Pecker said he volunteered to publish positive stories about Trump and negative stories about his opponents. But that wasn’t all, he said, telling jurors how he told Trump: “I will be your eyes and ears.”

“I said that anything I hear in the marketplace, if I hear anything negative about yourself, or if I hear about women selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen,” so that the rights could be purchased and the stories could be killed.

“So they would not get published?” asked prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked.

“So they would not get published,” Pecker replied.

Trump’s Defense

Trump’s lawyers are expected to make attacks on Cohen’s credibility a foundation of their defense, but in opening with Pecker, prosecutors hope to focus attention on a witness with a far less volatile backstory.

Pecker’s resumption of testimony Tuesday followed a hearing earlier in the day in which prosecutors urged Judge Juan Merchan to hold Trump in contempt and fine him $1,000 for each of 10 social media posts that they say violated an earlier gag order barring attacks on witnesses, jurors and others involved in the case.

Merchan did not immediately rule, but he seemed skeptical of a defense lawyer’s arguments that Trump was merely responding in his posts to others’ attacks and had been trying to comply with the order.

Trump’s Criminal Charges

Trump’s 34 felony counts of falsifying business records arise from reimbursements that prosecutors say Trump’s company made to Cohen over the hush money payments.

The charges punishable by up to four years in prison — though it’s unclear if Merchan would seek to put him behind bars. A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

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