Updated May 13, 2024 - Politics & Policy

What to know about David Pecker, key figure in Trump's trial

David Pecker at the 'Shape France' Magazine cocktail launch at Hotel Talleyrand on January 19, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Francois Durand/Getty Images)

David Pecker in Paris in 2012. Photo: Francois Durand/Getty Images

David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher, played a key role in quashing negative press coverage for former President Trump, Michael Cohen testified at Trump's criminal hush money trial Monday.

Why it matters: The influential tabloid media figure is accused by prosecutors of conspiring to influence the 2016 presidential election.

  • Pecker was the first witness in the trial that started in April. He told jurors last month how he would suppress stories critical of Trump — referred to as a "catch and kill" scheme — and encourage stories targeting his rivals during the 2016 election.
  • Pecker, a longtime friend of Trump, served as CEO of National Enquirer parent company American Media Inc., now A360 Media, from 1999 to 2020.

What Pecker's testimony revealed

During his testimony, Pecker told the jury he refused to pay for a story about an affair between Trump and adult film star Stormy Daniels, AP reported.

  • Already $180,000 in the hole, he said he told former Trump fixer Michael Cohen: "I didn't want to be involved in this."

He said he had already participated in two other catch-and-kill deals: $150,000 paid to Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep quiet about an affair with Trump and another payout to a former Trump Tower doorman.

Pecker also testified that Trump hosted a "thank you" dinner for him in 2017 at the White House.

Pecker's role in Trump press coverage

Cohen, Trump's onetime fixer, testified Monday about the role Pecker and his American Media Inc. (AMI) played in suppressing negative coverage of Trump, CNN reported.

  • During a 2015 meeting with Trump, Pecker promised to keep an eye out for negative coverage of Trump, according to Cohen.
  • Pecker "would be able to help us to know in advance what was coming out and try to stop it from coming out," Cohen testified.

Zoom in: Cohen also testified that he had been in communication with Pecker about preventing former Playboy model Karen McDougal's story from coming out via a "catch and kill" operation.

  • Cohen testified that during a phone call between Trump and Pecker, the latter said he "had this under control, and we'll take care of this," per CNN.
  • Cohen added that he learned the news directly from Pecker when the McDougal deal was finalized.

Involvement in Trump case

Prosecutors alleged in the indictment against the former president that Pecker met with Trump in 2015, agreed to help his campaign and publish negative stories about his competitors.

  • Pecker allegedly helped orchestrate "catch and kill" deals in which he'd buy exclusive rights to negative stories about Trump and then prevent them from becoming public during the 2016 presidential campaign. This includes deals with two women who claimed to have past affairs with Trump.
  • Pecker was granted immunity from prosecution by the DOJ in 2018 for providing information to federal prosecutors about the hush money payments.
  • The media titan was among dozens investigated by the House Judiciary Committee in 2019 as part of a sweeping probe of Trump and his inner circle.

Witness testimony in hush money trial

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo, delivering opening statements for the prosecution's side Monday, argued that Pecker was acting as "eyes and ears" for the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, Axios' Erin Doherty reports.

  • Colangelo used the phrase multiple times to describe how Pecker used his media empire, America Media, to help Trump's campaign.
  • Pecker testified Tuesday that he was asked in 2015 how he and his magazines could help Trump. Ultimately, they reached a "mutually beneficial" arrangement that helped increase ad sales of the Enquirer.
  • "I said I would run positive stories about Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponent," he said. "I said I would also be your eyes and ears because I know that the Trump Organization had a very small staff."
  • Prosecutors say Pecker helped carry out a "catch and kill" scheme to bury bad news about Trump.

Go deeper: Prosecutor in Trump hush money case zeroes in on "election fraud"

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new developments from Michael Cohen's testimony and additional details.

Go deeper