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'Catch and kill' tabloid chief winding up testimony in Trump trial

By AFP

April 26, 2024 11:26 PM


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The first week of arguments in Donald Trump's criminal trial was wrapping up on Friday following four days of gripping testimony from a colorful ex-tabloid publisher who said he squashed potentially embarrassing stories about the former president.

Trump, 77, is accused of falsifying business records to reimburse his lawyer, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 hush money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels just days ahead of the 2016 election.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was threatening at the time to go public with her story about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump that could have potentially derailed his White House campaign.

David Pecker, 72, the first witness called by the prosecutors, outlined a scheme known as "catch and kill," which involved buying and then burying salacious stories which could have been damaging to the real estate tycoon.

Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, was not personally involved in the payment to Daniels, but prosecutors are using his testimony to demonstrate that "catch and kill" was commonly used by Trump and his "fixer" Cohen.

Pecker told the court he was involved in a payment to a Trump Tower doorman who was peddling an apparently false claim that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock and another to Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who claimed to have had a year-long affair with Trump.

Pecker said $150,000 was paid to "catch" McDougal's story and suppress its publication, a "large purchase" relative to the sums his company would normally pay for content.

He said payments to McDougal were disguised as services to American Media, the tabloid's parent company, to avoid violating campaign finance laws.

"We purchased the story so it would not be published by any other organization," Pecker told the jury. "We didn't want the story to embarrass Mr. Trump or hurt his campaign."

When it came to squashing Daniels' tale of her alleged sexual encounter with Trump, Pecker said he hesitated to pay for yet another story.

"I'm not a bank," he said.

The executive suggested to Cohen that he pay for it instead, which prosecutors say the then-Trump fixer did.

Emil Bove, a Trump attorney, sought to ruffle Pecker during cross-examination by noting timeline inconsistencies and characterizing the "catch and kill" tactics described by prosecutors as "business as usual."

 'Rigged trial' 

 The high-stakes trial requires Trump to report to the drafty Manhattan courtroom multiple times a week, restricting his time on the campaign trail less than seven months before his likely election rematch with President Joe Biden.

Speaking to reporters in a hallway before entering court on Friday, Trump wished his wife, Melania, a happy birthday.

"It'd be nice to be with her but I'm at a courthouse for a rigged trial," he said.

The Republican presidential candidate has appeared increasingly disgruntled, angry even, as the trial proceeds.

He has addressed reporters regularly upon arriving and leaving the courthouse, lambasting the judge and complaining that the case is "election interference."

Prosecutors allege that Trump engaged in "election fraud" by falsifying business records to cover up his reimbursements to Cohen for the hush money payment made to Daniels, who is expected to testify at his trial.

Cohen, who has become a vocal critic of his former boss, is also expected to testify.

In addition to the New York case, Trump has been indicted in Washington and Georgia on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

He also faces charges in Florida of allegedly mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House.


AFP


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