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Why David Pecker’s return to the Manhattan grand jury matters

The public expected Michael Cohen to rebut Bob Costello. But the success of the Manhattan DA’s case could hinge on the former publisher of the National Enquirer.


It’s been more than a week since Donald Trump told the world that he expected to be arrested in New York in the Stormy Daniels hush money case. And it’s been nearly three weeks since the public learned that the former president was asked by the Manhattan district attorney’s office to provide his own, voluntary testimony, a step usually taken at the tail end of an investigation. 

And yet, as far as the public knows, there has been no vote on an indictment.

So what gives? One possibility is that Michael Cohen’s increasing vulnerability not just as a grand jury witness but especially at trial has become a larger problem than the DA’s office wants to admit. After all, as former federal prosecutor Ankush Khardori explained this week, with each and every TV appearance Cohen raises the possibility of inconsistencies with his prior testimony and even potentially with his sworn, federal guilty plea. And that, coupled with would-be Cohen lawyer Bob Costello’s own grand jury testimony, might have forced the DA to rehabilitate its case with witnesses beyond Cohen.

Enter David Pecker, former publisher of the National Enquirer. He likely has no firsthand knowledge of any false business records. But according to The New York Times, Pecker communicated with Trump directly at least twice about the “catch and kill” scheme that those records allegedly were designed to cover up. (Some of these communications are detailed in court filings from the federal case against Cohen and in the Justice Department’s nonprosecution agreement with American Media, the Enquirer’s former parent company.)

Per the Times:

As Mr. Obama prepared to leave office in 2015, Mr. Trump decided to run for president once more. That August, he sat in his office at Trump Tower with Mr. Cohen and David Pecker, the publisher of American Media Inc. and its flagship tabloid, The National Enquirer.

Mr. Pecker, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, had used The Enquirer to boost Mr. Trump’s past presidential runs. He promised to publish positive stories about Mr. Trump and negative ones about opponents, according to three people familiar with the meeting. Mr. Pecker also agreed to work with Mr. Cohen to find and suppress stories that might damage Mr. Trump’s new efforts, a practice known as “catch and kill.”

About a year later, in June 2016, after former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal began “exploring how to monetize her own tale of sleeping with Mr. Trump,” the then-candidate “personally appealed to Mr. Pecker for help in keeping Ms. McDougal quiet,” the Times reported. (Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels or McDougal.)

The bottom line is: If prosecutors criminally charge Trump, they’ll have to prove at trial that Trump was directly engaged in any alleged crime.

And finally, in October 2016, the day after the “Access Hollywood” tape became public, Cohen spoke with Pecker, Trump and the Enquirer’s editor, Dylan Howard, after Pecker declined to pay Daniels the $120,000 her side sought, according to the Times.

The bottom line is: If prosecutors criminally charge Trump, they’ll have to prove at trial that Trump was directly engaged in any alleged crime.

Will Pecker take them over that line? Watch this space.