The Manhattan district attorney’s office has been asking questions during grand jury proceedings about a hush-money scheme known as a “catch and kill” deal aimed at covering up an alleged affair between former President Donald Trump and a former playboy model before the 2016 presidential election, two people familiar with the matter said.
Prosecutors have asked at least one witness questions about a $150,000 payment the publisher of the National Enquirer made to the model, Karen McDougal, to buy her story about the alleged affair with Trump, the people said. The grand jury has been investigating Trump’s alleged role in a $130,000 hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
The witness also was asked about other stories bought by American Media Inc. – which publishes the Enquirer – and later killed. Trump had a history, with his long-time friend and former chairman of AMI, David Pecker, of buying negative stories and planting positive ones, the people said. Pecker testified Monday before the Manhattan grand jury for the second time.
Trump has denied both affairs.
It isn’t clear whether prosecutors are considering the payment as part of its investigation or using it as a pattern to establish a pattern of entering into such deals.
The district attorney’s renewed interest in the McDougal payment was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Trump attorney Joe Tacopina declined to comment.
Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to two federal campaign finance charges related to the payments to McDougal and Daniels to silence their allegations before the election. AMI got a non-prosecution agreement for cooperating with the federal prosecution. Pecker testified and received immunity in the federal investigation.
As part of its non-prosecution agreement, AMI admitted to making the $150,000 payment in cooperation with some members of Trump’s campaign in order to prevent McDougal’s claims of an affair from becoming public. Pecker met with Cohen “and at least one other member of the campaign” in August 2015, the agreement states.
The agreement said Cohen, Pecker and “one or more members of the campaign” met in August 2015. At that meeting, “Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased, and their publication avoided.”
AMI admitted that after that meeting, Pecker agreed to “keep Cohen appraised” of negative stories about Trump.
Trump denies involvement in the hush-money schemes and said Thursday that he “did nothing wrong with respect to campaign finance laws.”
In 2019, prosecutors subpoenaed the Trump Organization for information about Daniels and McDougal, CNN reported.
This story has been updated with additional details.