Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Escapades Raised “Sensitivity” To Election Law Violations, Ex-‘National Enquirer’ Boss Tells Donald Trump Hush Money Trial

It was thanks in part to Arnold Schwarzenegger that the former publisher of the National Enquirer knew he could get in trouble for the tabloid’s catch-and-kill policy and buying off salacious stories about Donald Trump.

Over objections from Trump’s defense team, ex-American Media CEO David Pecker poignantly Thursday told the judge, jurors, Trump himself and everyone else in a packed Manhattan courtroom he was aware he was violating election law in 2016 when he secretly bought Playboy playmate Karen McDougal’s story of an affair with Trump for $150,000. Admitting the purchase was entirely to kill the story, Pecker said that the primary purpose behind the payoff and others in a similar vein was to help the then-Celebrity Apprentice host’s presidential campaign.

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Such tactics were nothing new for Pecker.

Under his deal with Schwarzenegger over 20 years ago, the former media executive said today, “I would call him and advise him of any stories that were out there, and I ended up acquiring them and buying them for a period of time.” Back on the stand in the Trump hush money trial today, Pecker added, he gained a “sensitivity” to campaign finance law based what had gone down in the early 2000s with stories of Schwarzenegger’s alleged misconduct on film sets and elsewhere over the decades.

In the case of Trump and the McDougal story, Pecker came up short and the tale was published just days before the 2016 election by the Wall Street Journal. Having barely survived the released of the odious Access Hollywood tape just weeks before, Trump was furious about the WSJ article, Pecker told the court today

As the first former president to stand trial, the much-indicted Trump is in court over a $130,000 payment made in 2016 to allegedly keep adult film actor Stormy Daniels from going public with her story of a one-night stand with Trump. The so-called hush money Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen wired to Daniels was secretly reimbursed by the then-candidate through an illegal scheme that violated dozens of business and campaign finance laws, prosecutors say.

Trump has denied both affairs and said he paid Cohen for routine legal work and nothing more.

Connecting Hollywood and Republican dots, Pecker continued his testimony Thursday that he was concerned a payment to McDougal would violate campaign finance laws because of his own past experience with Schwarzenegger running for California governor in 2002-2003.

Back then, as the Terminator star was preparing an ultimately successful GOP run to replace the recalled Grey Davis, Schwarzenegger was also an editor at large for two fitness magazines owned by AMI. In that context, and in the catch-and-kill vein that he used to protect Trump and Schwarzenegger, Pecker testified he took pains to disguise the McDougal payment as a contract for editorial work, some of which he planned for the 1998 Playmate of the Year to do, and rights to her life story.

Under questioning from prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, the ex-CEO admitted to the Manhattan courtroom, with Trump seated just a few feet away, that never had any intention of ever publishing anything on McDougal.

Longtime Trump courtier Pecker has been granted an immunity deal by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office in exchange for his testimony. So far, in a case that expects to see Daniels and former Trump bagman Cohen also testify, Pecker’s time on the stand has been crushing for the former POTUS.

It has proven a bit embarrassing for Schwarzenegger too; his reps did not respond to a request from Deadline to respond to what was said in court today.

In 2002, Pecker’s company bought fitness magazines Flex and Muscle & Fitness, founded by bodybuilding champion Joe Weider, a Schwarzenegger mentor who also made the Conan actor a columnist at the publications. Pecker testified that around that time he met with Schwarzenegger, who registered his displeasure with what AMI tabloids had reported about him, and noted he’d been involved in litigation with the company over its gossip coverage.

The publisher said Schwarzenegger told him, “You always run negative stories about me. I plan on running for governor and I would like you not to publish any negative stories about me … now or in the future.”

Pecker said he agreed.

When Schwarzenegger announced on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show in 2003 that he was running for governor, Pecker said today that “a number of women called up to National Enquirer about stories that they had to sell on different relationships or contacts, and sexual harassment that they felt that Arnold Schwarzenegger did.” The problem for Pecker and AMI’s catch-and-kill moves was that when one of the women went instead to the Los Angeles Times with her account of Schwarzenegger’s misbehavior. Adding insult to injury, when Schwarzenegger was repeatedly asked at the time by reporters about the story, the actor-turned-politician would say, “Ask my friend David Pecker.”

“It was very embarrassing to me and the company,” Pecker testified today. The star witness publisher said that “an investigation by the state” followed, and Schwarzenegger had to resign as editor at large of the two titles.

As the New York court today now turns to the specifics of the $130,000 Daniels payoffs at the heart of the case, Trump lawyers have been arguing in front of the Supreme Court in DC over the ex-president’s claims of immunity. Having already delayed a federal trial in the January 6th case and maybe other Trump trials by agreeing to today’s end-of-term hearing, the conservative-majority SCOTUS will consider whether Trump’s conduct as president gives him broad immunity from prosecution. Whatever they decide, the timing saves Trump the possibility of having to face further time in court as his rematch against Joe Biden heats up this summer.

Today also saw prosecutors in the Manhattan hush money case arguing before Justice Juan Merchan that Trump has violated the gag order he’s under at least four more times.

Citing a grand total of 14 violations, not including the latter part of today, prosecutor Christopher Conroy asked the Empire State judge to hold Trump in contempt. “This is a message to Pecker: Be nice,” Conroy said of potentially intimidating remarks Trump has made over the past 72 hours, including when the trial was dark on Wednesday. “It’s a message to others: I have a platform and I can talk about you and I can say things like this, or I can say things like I said about Cohen.”

Outside court and on his Truth Social platform, Trump has repeatedly bashed Cohen and Daniels calling them liars and opportunists, and called Merchan too compromised by Democratic family ties to oversee the case. He also has accused Manhattan DA Bragg of using the criminal justice system to help Biden beat him in their expected rematch this fall.

Online digs at Cohen, Daniels and potential jurors prompted the assistant DAs leading the prosecution to seek a contempt ruling for what they called repeat violations of a gag order imposed by the judge. The order forbids criticism of witnesses, jurors and other case participants — though not Merchan himself or Bragg. Trump has called the gag order unfair and unconstitutional.

In a contempt hearing Tuesday with no jurors present, Merchan warned Trump lawyer Todd Blanche that he was “losing all credibility” with legal arguments that amounted to “nothing.” Merchan invited Blanche to put Trump on the stand, an offer Blanche did not take.

Even after today’s further arguing over the violations by prosecutors, Merchan had yet to announce a decision on whether he will find Trump in contempt and levy fines of up to $10,000.

Earlier, with jury out of the room on a short break, the lawyers haggled over whether to admit Election Night texts from National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard to a relative of his as evidence. One from Howard reads, “At least if he wins I’ll be pardoned for electoral fraud.”

The judge is sounding skeptical of letting the jurors see these, but hasn’t ruled yet.

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