Trump trial hears witness testimony about “catch and kill” scheme

David Pecker answers questions from prosecutors Joshua Steinglass in former President Donald Trump's trial in New York on Tuesday, April 23, 2024.
David Pecker answers questions from prosecutors Joshua Steinglass in former President Donald Trump’s trial in New York on Tuesday, April 23, 2024. Jane Rosenberg

Pecker moved on to describe the second “catch and kill” story, which involved former Playboy model Karen McDougal. She alleged that she had an affair with Trump, which he denies. 

Pecker said that Dylan Howard, the Enquirer’s editor, got wind of the story in early June 2016. Pecker sent Howard out to California to interview McDougal and told Cohen about her claims. The witness noted that he was speaking to Cohen almost every day, and sometimes several times a day, during this period.

Cohen at one point cautioned that they shouldn’t be talking over a landline, so they switched to the encrypted app Signal, according to Pecker. Pecker said Cohen “explained to me that it was an encrypted app where nobody could trace it and that there’s not a paper trail and nobody that can listen into the conversations. And the conversation is apparently destroyed after you have the call. I still to this day don’t know if that’s true or not.”

They started using the app, but Pecker said, “Every time I used it, it dropped off after like 30 seconds.”

Pecker said he knows that Cohen told Trump about the McDougal allegations because of a call he received while in New Jersey, where he was making a business presentation. Trump called and said that Cohen had told him about McDougal, he testified.

“What do you think?” Pecker said Trump asked. He replied that McDougal claimed she had offers from ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and a Mexican group that supposedly would pay her $8 million for the story.

“And I said, ‘It’s my understanding that she doesn’t want her story published. I think the story should be purchased and I believe that you should buy it,'” Pecker recalled telling Trump. 

“Mr. Trump said, ‘I don’t buy any stories. Any time you do anything like this it always gets out.'”

Pecker said, “I still believe we should take this story off the market. [Trump] said, ‘Let me think about it and I’ll have Michael Cohen call you back in a few days.'”

When Howard went to California to talk to McDougal, Pecker said Cohen was calling him multiple times a day and “getting really agitated … He kept on calling and each time he called he seemed more anxious.”

“I assumed that he had a conversation with Mr. Trump and Mr. Trump was asking Michael Cohen, ‘Did we hear anything yet?’ But this is only an assumption on my part,” said Pecker.

The Enquirer ultimately secured the rights to McDougal’s account for $150,000 and never published her story.

Pecker gestured with his hands on the stand as he recounted the story in a quintessential New York accent. His white hair was combed back, and he wore round spectacles.

The jurors were watching him in rapt attention during his testimony, with some turning to the prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, or perhaps to look toward Trump at times. 

Merchan leaned back as Pecker told his story, with his head propped on his hand listening.

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