The scene: March 2016. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are locked in a vicious battle in advance of Wisconsin’s April 5 primary.
Enter the National Enquirer, which ran a cover story alleging that Cruz has engaged in extramarital affairs with a series of women.
Cruz went absolutely ballistic, denying the allegation and insisting the Enquirer story was the result of Trump’s close personal relationship with David Pecker, the man who is CEO of the Enquirer’s parent company. Cruz called the story “garbage.”
“I don’t make a habit out of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my family,” said Cruz. “And Donald Trump is not going to be the Republican nominee.” (Cruz won the Wisconsin primary but Trump did become the Republican nominee.)
At the time, which was right after the Enquirer endorsed Trump’s 2016 bid, an American Media spokesperson said in a statement to CNN that “no one influences” the tabloid magazine’s reporting “other than our own reporters and editors.”
Trump denied he had anything to do with the story via a statement from his campaign that read:
“I did not know about it, and have not, as yet, read it. Likewise, I have nothing to do with the National Enquirer and unlike Lyin’ Ted Cruz I do not surround myself with political hacks and henchman and then pretend total innocence. Ted Cruz’s problem with the National Enquirer is his and his alone, and while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin’ Ted Cruz. I look forward to spending the week in Wisconsin, winning the Republican nomination and ultimately the Presidency in order to Make America Great Again. “
Focus specifically on this line from Trump: “I have nothing to do with the National Enquirer.”
We have audio proof that Trump’s statement is inaccurate in the form of a secretly-recorded conversation between then-presidential candidate and his one-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
“I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David,” Cohen is heard saying on the September 2016 tape obtained exclusively by CNN, a reference to Pecker’s purchase, one month earlier, of the exclusive rights to the story of an ex-Playmate named Karen McDougal, who alleged she had an affair with Trump. (Pecker never ran the story, using a tabloid trick called “catch and kill,” meaning he paid for McDougal’s story knowing he would never run it but could use it as leverage.)
If Trump had “nothing to do” with the National Enquirer in March 2016, why would he not be at all confused a few months later when Cohen referred to the need to transfer money to “our friend David”? (Trump wound up not paying Pecker for the rights to McDougal’s story.) And why would Cohen testify – under oath – that he had helped arrange payment to both McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels, who also alleged she had an affair with Trump, under the “direction” of Trump. Trump has repeatedly denied the alleged affairs.
And that he did so with the express purpose of influencing the election by keeping the allegations against Trump out of the news in the final days of the 2016 campaign – when Trump was already dealing with the fallout from offensive comments he made about women on an “Access Hollywood” tape.
The truth is that Trump’s relationship with Pecker is long and close. As Politico’s Jack Shafer wrote in a profile of the National Enquirer and Trump last year:
“In another era, Trump’s history of tomcatting, unscrupulous business dealings and grandiose tastes would have made him a perfect tabloid villain. But in that era, all the tabs would not have been owned by one person, who happened to be a friend of Trump. That person is David Pecker, CEO of American Media, the New York-based publisher that owns the Enquirer, the other tabloids and Radaronline, its Web tabloid. The two worked together in the late 1990s on Trump Style, a magazine for guests of the Trump properties, when Pecker was a magazine executive at Hachette Filipacchi Magazines. Pecker acknowledges their personal closeness, and reports have documented what looks like a significant amount of back-scratching.”
The idea, given all of that history – not to mention the Cohen tape – that Trump knew nothing of the Enquirer in March 2016 is laughable. And it’s one more example of Trump not telling the truth when confronted with a situation in which the truth would make things uncomfortable for him.