Mon, Sep 03, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Hush payments spell danger for Trump

Donald Trump took an extraordinary risk to keep alleged extramarital affairs secret, a concern that feels somewhat quaint in the context of his public behavior

By Tom McCarthy  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Yusha

Inside the offices of the National Enquirer was a safe full of secrets. The supermarket tabloid was not known for keeping them. Its weekly front page featured celebrity gossip — sex gossip, ideally — mixed with stories about celebrity rehab and, often, the British royal family.

However, the magazine sat on certain stories. A boldface name wanted something to remain private and in exchange for silence was willing to pay cash — or maybe, in the case of Tiger Woods, offer exclusive content to a sister publication. A contract was drawn up, perhaps money changed hands and the documents were thrown in the safe. Its existence was itself a secret, until The Associated Press reported it this week.

An unknown number of years ago, documents relating to US President Donald Trump began to land in the safe. Trump was a long-time friend of Enquirer publisher David Pecker, a fellow New Yorker who was a frequent guest at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, including at Trump’s wedding to Melania Knauss. When actor Cameron Diaz threatened to sue the Enquirer in 2005 over an allegation of an affair, Trump went in to bat for Pecker.

“Cameron, one last word of advice,” the future president told the New York Daily News. “You may just want to avoid hugging strange men in the bushes. Because you know what? David Pecker and the National Enquirer will get you every time.”

The launch of Trump’s presidential campaign in June 2015 did not stop the accumulation of documents. On the contrary, Trump’s political career made his secrets more precious — or so he seemed to believe. At least two major documents landed in the safe in late 2016, it appears, just weeks before Trump was elected.

Trump’s fate might have been sealed with them.

The documents were agreements with two women who alleged affairs with Trump early in his marriage to Melania. One, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, accepted a cash payment from the magazine publisher for exclusive rights to her story, which has not yet been printed. The second, adult filmmaker and actor Stormy Daniels, was represented by the same lawyer as McDougal and had a similar story to tell.

On Trump’s side, the man handling the hush agreements was Michael Cohen, a personal-injury lawyer and taxi business owner who had been plying his unique skills on Trump’s behalf since 2007. Cohen was a child of Long Island, New York, who grew up reading The Art of the Deal and aiming for the big time.

Everyone involved would make it bigger than anyone had imagined.

However, after a week in which Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal felonies and Pecker was revealed to have reached an immunity deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony, it is a fair question as to whether they went too big.

Whatever else it might turn out to be, the Trump presidency has seen a spectacular collision between Trump and his associates on one hand, and the cogs of law enforcement — city, state and federal — on the other. It is a complicated wreck, involving at least four teams of prosecutors investigating Trump’s presidential campaign, his charity and his businesses.

One of those investigations might yet turn up something that ultimately brings Trump down. Or that might not happen. For now, the most ominous legal hazards surrounding Trump have sprung up not in connection with his campaign, his charity or his businesses, but from a fourth area: his sex life.

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