What prosecutors learned from the publisher of Trump's favorite tabloid

This July 12, 2017, file photo shows the cover of an issue of the National Enquirer featuring President Donald Trump at a store in New York.
This July 12, 2017, file photo shows the cover of an issue of the National Enquirer featuring President Donald Trump at a store in New York.

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former lawyer and "fixer," stood up in a federal court room, admitted to making illegal payoffs to two of the president's alleged former mistresses, and told a judge that the hush-money payments were made "in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office," directly implicating the president in a federal crime.

But Trump wasn't the only one implicated. Cohen also described his coordination with "the CEO of a media company" to implement a scheme "for the principal purpose of influencing the election."

Keep this in mind when reading the new Wall Street Journal  report on how federal prosecutors motivated Cohen to reach a plea deal.

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office had testimony from Mr. Cohen's accountant and business partners, along with bank records, tax filings and loan applications that implicated not only Mr. Cohen in potential criminal activity, but also his wife, who filed taxes jointly with her husband. Prosecutors signaled Mr. Cohen would face nearly 20 criminal counts, potentially carrying a lengthy prison sentence and staggering financial penalties.Adding to the pressure, David Pecker, the chairman of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, provided prosecutors with details about payments Mr. Cohen arranged with women who alleged sexual encounters with President Trump, including Mr. Trump's knowledge of the deals.

When Cohen described his coordination with "the CEO of a media company," there was no great mystery as to whom he was referring. The broader question, however, was how this CEO -- AMI's David Pecker -- was involved in the case and what information he had about the scandal.

If the Wall Street Journal's reporting is correct, the answers are coming into focus. Pecker not only provided useful information to federal prosecutors, he also shared insights into the president's awareness of the criminal scheme.

This follows a separate Wall Street Journal  report from June that said federal authorities had subpoenaed the National Enquirer's publisher "for records related to its $150,000 payment to a former Playboy model for the rights to her story alleging an affair with Donald Trump, according to people familiar with the matter."

The article added, "The subpoena from Manhattan federal prosecutors requesting information from the publisher, American Media Inc., about its August 2016 payment to Karen McDougal is part of a broader criminal investigation of Mr. Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, they said."

The Washington Post  reported the same week, "An FBI raid executed April 8 on Cohen's office and residences sought all of the lawyer's records of communications with AMI, Pecker and [Dylan Howard, the company's chief content officer] regarding two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump while he was married, according to three people familiar with the investigation."

There's also, of course, the September 2016 recording that surfaced last month of Cohen and Trump turning to "our friend David" -- in apparent reference to David Pecker -- when discussing a payoff to one of Trump's former mistresses.

For more background on the relationship between Trump and his favorite supermarket tabloid, take a look at our previous coverage.