David Pecker returns to witness stand as Trump’s hush money trial resumes

NEW YORK — Former National Enquirer David Pecker returned to the stand Thursday at Donald Trump’s Manhattan Supreme Court hush money trial — where the jurors heard details on a scheme to disguise a $150,000 payment to Playboy model Karen McDougal before the 2016 election to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the former president argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to get him out of his election subversion case by invoking presidential immunity, Trump is expected to hear Pecker detail American Media’s effort to silence Playboy model Karen McDougal before the 2016 election about her allegations of an affair.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan previously denied Trump’s request to skip the morning’s proceedings so he could attend the arguments before the nation’s high court.

Merchan is due to issue a decision on prosecutors’ request to hold Trump in criminal contempt and impose monetary sanctions for potentially violating a gag order prohibiting him from publicly criticizing trial participants.

Pecker says he wanted to call off the Karen McDougal deal

Under questioning by prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, Pecker established the lengths they went to to disguise the $150,000 payment to Karen McDougal, including Michael Cohen creating a shell company and the labeling of the payment as a “flat fee for advisory services.”

Pecker had hesitations with the whole deal — testifying that he asked repeatedly where the money was going to come from — as he tried to appease his old friend Trump and his team.

He previously said Trump wanted boxes of “all the content” that the National Enquirer had on him. “The boss said, ‘If I got hit by a bus or the company was sold,’ he did not want someone else to potentially publish those stories,” Cohen said of Trump.

Pecker also testified about the explosive October 2016 phone conversation he had with Cohen where he told the fixer to “rip up” the deal.

“I called Michael Cohen and I told him that the agreement, the deal he signed, was off. ‘I am not going forward. It’s a bad idea and I want you to revoke the agreement.’

“He was very angry, very upset, screaming, basically at me.”

“The boss is going to be very angry with you,” Pecker recalled Cohen saying.

“I’m sorry, the deal is off,” Pecker replied.

Trump sat leaned back in his chair with a slight scowl on his face.

Pecker also recalled how the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape was released just before the 2016 election.

“The gist of that recording was a conversation between Donald Trump and Billy Bush … going on a bus to a set and the comments from Mr. Trump was, ‘You can grab a woman by their genitals,’” Pecker recalled.

“It was very embarrassing, very damaging to the campaign.”

Pecker tells how Playboy model payoff happened

Pecker said he believed Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story about an affair with Trump was true and that it would be “very embarrassing” for Trump and his campaign. He said he and Cohen went back and forth a bit before the fixer said Trump had given the green light, authorizing Pecker to make a deal to kill the story.

Dylan Howard, the National Enquirer’s top editor, negotiated the lifetime rights to McDougal’s story for $150,000. They also included in the deal professional opportunities to write for some of Pecker’s lifestyle and health publications.

Pecker testified that he spoke to Cohen “at least daily,” who was “agitated” it was taking a while to lock in a deal with the pinup model.

“[Cohen] said, ‘You should pay.’ I said, ‘Why would I pay? I just paid $30,000 for the doorman story.’ I said, ‘Now you’re asking me to pay $150,000 for the Karen story, plus all these other, additional terms that she wants to do?’”

“Who is going to reimburse me for this?” Pecker recalled asking.

“[Cohen] said to me, ‘Don’t worry about it, the boss will take care of it.’” That was the second time Pecker recalled a reassurance about “the boss” taking care of the payment.

Before jurors took their seats, prosecutor Chris Conroy told Merchan Trump had violated his gag order another four times by commenting on jurors and witnesses Michael Cohen and David Pecker in recent media interviews. He renewed his request to the judge to find Trump in contempt.

The bombshell testimony about Trump’s behind-the-scenes campaign strategies comes as the 2024 race grinds into gear.

The former president has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, alleging he covered up a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels as part of a sweeping scheme to defraud voters.