Researchers focus on another Trump Ally: The National Enquirer

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Now the sensationalist company has been involved in a broad federal investigation into Mr. Cohen's activities, including efforts to avoid potentially damaging stories about Mr. Trump during his White House career. In one case, The Enquirer bought but did not publish a story about a supposed extramarital affair years before with the presidential candidate, an unusual decision for a scandal sheet.

The federal investigation could have serious legal implications for the president and his campaign committee. It also raises thorny questions about the protections of the First Amendment of AMI, and whether its record of supporting Mr. Trump in any way opens the door to the scrutiny usually reserved for political organizations.

A search warrant for federal prosecutors in New York to Mr. Cohen this week requests, among other things, all communications between him, Mr. Pecker and Dylan Howard, the company's chief content officer. The company was in touch with Mr. Cohen, The New York Times reported earlier, as he sought to acquire the rights to the story of a Playboy model about an affair with Trump.



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Donald J. Trump in 2014 with his close friend David J. Pecker, president of American Media Inc., which publishes The Enquirer.

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Patrick McMullan / PatrickMcMullan.com

The company also faces a complaint from the Federal Election Commission stating that the payment of $ 150,000 to the woman, Karen McDougal, represented an illegal campaign contribution. TO ME. It is in the process of answering.

A.M.I. He has denied any wrongdoing while also saying that his cooperation with investigators will not extend beyond his constitutionally protected status as a news organization.

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"It is easy to look down at the work product of celebrity magazines and badume that they are not entitled to the same protections as conventional media," said Cameron Stracher, lawyer for A.M.I. "But the First Amendment was designed to protect all speech against government intrusion."

At AMI, Trump has had an unusually powerful media endorsement, one that complements the prime-time support list on Fox News.

Enquirer had an average paid circulation of approximately 260,000 copies per week in the second half of last year. That was a 13 percent drop from the previous six-month average, according to the editors' data provided to the Alliance for Audited Media obtained by The Times.



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Mr. Trump with Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who claims to have had a love affair. Mr. Pecker's company repressed the story during the presidential campaign.

But most of its sales are sold over the counter at $ 4.99 per copy. The Enquirer provides a useful platform for a politician seeking votes from average American citizens, in a place where candidates have gone to show their familiarity with everyday life: the supermarket payment line.

The family that controlled A.M.I. before Mr. Pecker took over in 1999, the Popes moved from the beginning to ensure The Enquirer's prime location in the magazine racks at the supermarket cash registers. The company now also owns The Globe, Us Weekly, OK! and other titles that benefit from that arrangement.

In a statement, the company said: "If A.M.I. was" useful "to the president during the campaign, it was because the National Enquirer audience was one of the most favorable candidates for his candidacy during the campaign." He added that Enquirer covers Mr. Trump's sales increase.

"We cover it for a commercial reason," the statement said.

Mr. Pecker, a Bronx native who has delighted in altering the establishment of Manhattan magazine since the early 1990s, has been open about his view that A.M.I. You have good reason to connect with Mr. Trump. As he told The New Yorker last year, he considered an attack on Mr. Trump an attack on A.M.I. – implying that they were one and the same.

He said that after A.M.I. she bought Mrs. McDougal's story and agreed to present it in the health and fitness columns in gossip magazines like Hers and Flex, she expected her loyalty to the company and Mr. Trump. "Once she is part of the company, then, on the outside, she can not be attacking Trump and American Media," he said.

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The lawyer of President Michael D. Cohen. A search warrant issued this week requested, among other things, communications involving A.M.I.

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Amir Levy / Reuters

Mr. Pecker has supported Mr. Trump's presidential aspirations since his election as a Reform Party candidate in 2000, when George magazine, part of the company that Mr. Pecker had then, Hachette, presented a friendly profile. The Enquirer was early to promote Mr. Trump's potential offer in 2011.

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As Mr. Trump intensified his campaign in 2015, he, Mr. Cohen, Mr. Howard and Mr. Pecker engaged in more serious discussions about how A.M.I. It could be useful, according to several people familiar with the efforts.

In an early interaction, Cohen helped organize a finally abandoned attempt to buy and bury a potentially damaging photograph of Mr. Trump at an event with a bad woman: what is known in the tabloid world as an operation of " catch and kill. "

A person close to the campaign at that time recalled a meeting at Trump Tower in February 2015 between Mr. Pecker and Mr. Trump about how AMI could help reveal embarrbading information about Bill and Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival , during a general election. The person, who requested anonymity to discuss private matters, said that Mr. Cohen was also present. Mr. Cohen did not respond to a request for comment.

Late Wednesday, A.M.I. He said in a statement: "If the suggestion is that David, Trump and Cohen met to discuss Clinton's strategy, AMI denies it categorically."

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Dylan Howard, AMI's content manager, was involved in the effort to buy and bury the story of Mrs. McDougal.

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Splash News

There are several intersections between the world of Trump and that of Mr. Pecker. Former casino executive, David R. Hughes, joined the board of A.M.I. in 2013, when he was the CFO of Trump Entertainment Resorts (he is no longer a Trump employee). After the 2016 campaign ended, a media consultant, Justin McConney, landed at A.M.I. as a director of audience development (he left since then).

One of A.M.I.'s main financiers, billionaire Leon G. Cooperman, criticized Trump during the campaign, but recently he has favorably compared him to Ronald Reagan. Last July, he accompanied Mr. Pecker to a dinner at the White House with Mr. Trump, along with another A.M.I. financial backing, Anthony Melchiorre, of Chatham Asset Management.

At the center of the campaign, the financial investigations will be whether the links between Mr. Cohen, Mr. Howard, Mr. Pecker, Mr. Trump and others led A.M.I. to act more like a political supporter than a news organization.

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The group that filed the federal complaint, Common Cause, claims that the payment of Ms. McDougal's story was not a "legitimate press function" and therefore was not protected by rules that exempted organizations from News of campaign financing regulations.

The question represents a delicate terrain for federal officials, given the protection that journalists under the First Amendment have. "We always worry when investigators make those judgmental calls about whether their editorial process is legitimate or not, or whether this legitimate journalism is or not," said Alexandra Ellerbeck, coordinator of the North America program of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Even the most staunch supporters of the press say that fraudulent activity is not protected by journalistic freedoms.

"We are not, as media organizations, immune from the country's civil and criminal laws," said Sandra S. Baron, principal investigator. at Yale Law School and former executive director of the Media Law Resource Center.

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