A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
The Journal was right
President Trump is reportedly “seething.” His lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison for committing serious campaign finance violations. And Trump has been implicated in two felonies.
As CNN’s Jake Tapper said on Wednesday: “The president’s attorney is going to jail – jail – for crimes that the prosecutors say, two of them at least, the president told him to do. I know that we have all kind of gotten numb to all of the daily chaos of this administration. But this is huge.”
Yes. So try to think back to the beginnings of this scandal. When did you first heard about it? I first read about it in the Wall Street Journal. The paper exposed this scandal. The WSJ first published a story about the $150,000 payoff to Karen McDougal four days before – before! – the 2016 election.
“The Wall Street Journal broke the original stories of payments made by Michael Cohen and has owned every step of this story, from the role of the National Enquirer to the tactics of the investigators,” EIC Matt Murray told me Wednesday night. “Importantly, no one, ever, has substantively challenged the facts we have reported—and in fact subsequent events have time and again confirmed them.”
So let’s go back in time and revisit that very first story. The headline: “National Enquirer Shielded Donald Trump From Playboy Model’s Affair Allegation.” IMHO, it’s a headline for the history books, now that it’s been determined to be a campaign finance violation.
Way back then, Hope Hicks was quoted saying, of the deal with McDougal, “We have no knowledge of any of this.” And American Media was quoted saying, “AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump.” On Wednesday, the company admitted otherwise…
AMI confesses to “catch and kill”
After Cohen was sentenced, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York revealed that they have a non-prosecution agreement with American Media Inc., “effectively ruling out charges for the tabloid publisher,” Tom Kludt reported. AMI finally confessed to using “catch and kill” tactics to help Trump and hurt his opponents.
Tom Kludt emails: “Perhaps it’s helpful to spell it out in plain terms: A supermarket tabloid worked in concert with the eventual president’s 2016 campaign. Even in 2018, that remains extraordinary. AMI managed to avoid charges, but it came at a cost. AMI boss David Pecker was a longtime friend and confidant of Trump’s. The Enquirer’s coverage of Trump verged on hero worship. But that’s over now…”
The Enquirer has stopped supporting Trump
On Wednesday I went back and reviewed every Enquirer cover this year. The tabloid was one of Trump’s biggest boosters, right up until April, when the feds showed up at Cohen’s door.
At that point the pro-Trump covers stopped.
In May there was one anti-Cohen cover. And that was it: Trump hasn’t been mentioned once on the cover of the Enquirer since May. The mag hasn’t attacked any of his enemies on the cover, either. So it has stopped being a part of Trump’s promotional media machine. Here’s my full story…
→ Related: Tom explored the Enquirer’s Trump worship in this video in March…
Reactions from the WSJ
Michael Rothfeld and Joe Palazzolo led the way on the WSJ’s reporting. On Wednesday night, they told me, “Even though we were certain of our reporting about Michael Cohen and American Media paying women on behalf of Donald Trump to keep silent during the presidential campaign, despite their strong denials, it is gratifying to see both of them admit what they had done.”
So many investigative journalists can relate to that feeling…
Murray credited Rothfeld and Palazzolo for their “groundbreaking work,” first and foremost, and pointed out that a big team was involved in the coverage: Reporters Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Nicole Hong, Rebecca Ballhaus, Mark Maremont, Rob Barry, Lukas Alpert and Ali Berzon… And editors Mike Siconolfi, Jennifer Forsyth and Ashby Jones “have shepherded the entire effort with grace and rigor,” he said…
“The walls are closing in…”
The NYT has also been doing great work on this story… Here’s Thursday morning’s print headline: “Tabloid Publisher’s Deal In Hush-Money Inquiry Adds to Trump’s Danger.”
Don Lemon framed it this way on his Wednesday night show: “If this President feels as if the walls are closing in tonight, he’s right, because they are.”
And former National Enquirer L.A. bureau chief Jerry George said this on “Erin Burnett OutFront:” “I don’t think that the President is going to be able to wiggle out of it this time. I think this could very well be the beginning of the end…”
Was it worth it for Trump?
Tom Kludt adds: Was any of this worth it? Obviously, from a legal perspective, the answer is no. But just looking at in strictly political terms – which is how Trump and company viewed it when they struck the deal with Pecker before election day – would this have damaged Trump’s candidacy at all? His philandering and treatment of women was well-documented by that point, and the “Access Hollywood” tape did nothing to derail his campaign a month before the election. Something tells me that he would have survived this, too…
Trump’s 40th interview with Fox…
It will take place on Thursday on Harris Faulkner’s 1 p.m. show, “Outnumbered Overtime.” Fox notes that this is Faulkner’s first interview with Trump. She will tape the interview at the W.H. on Thursday morning, then anchor her show from the North Lawn. It will bring the total number of Fox News/Fox Biz/Fox Radio interviews with POTUS to 40…