Trump hush money trial: Ex-tabloid publisher tried to stop potential damaging stories to protect Trump

Key things to know:

  • Day three of witness testimony on Thursday in Trump's hush money trial, including a former National Enquirer publisher.
  • Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of a scheme to bury stories that he feared could hurt his 2016 campaign.
  • Others expected to testify are Stormy Daniels, a porn actor who says she had a sexual encounter with Trump, and Michael Cohen, the lawyer who prosecutors say paid her to keep quiet about it.

When Donald Trump was running for president in 2016, his old friend at the National Enquirer, David Pecker was scooping up potentially damaging stories about the candidate and paying out tens of thousands of dollars to keep them from the public eye.

But when it came to the seamy claims by porn performer Stormy Daniels, Pecker said he put his foot down.

Pecker's testimony was a critical building block for the prosecution’s theory that their partnership was a way to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election, the Associated Press reported. 

Pecker recalled that the publication bought a sordid tale from a New York City doorman and purchased accusations of an extramarital affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal to prevent the claims from getting out. There was some talk of reimbursement from Trump's orbit, but Pecker was ultimately never paid.

The AP noted the breaking point for Pecker came with Daniels, who was eventually paid by Cohen to keep quiet over her claim of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump. The ex-president denies it happened.

Follow along for live updates:

4:50 p.m. ET: Court adjourns for the day

Testimony has concluded for the day.

4:30 p.m. ET: Hearing scheduled on claims of gag order violations

The judge scheduled a hearing for Wednesday on prosecutors’ latest claims that Trump violated the gag order, but it’s unclear if Trump will need to attend. His campaign has already scheduled back-to-back rallies that day in Wisconsin and Michigan.

4 p.m. ET: Defense traces Pecker's long relationship with Trump

Defense attorney Emil Bove traced Pecker’s long relationship with Trump, showing how the publishing executive used his power to help his friend long before the presidential election.

Back in 1998, Bove said, Pecker tried to stop a negative National Enquirer story about Trump’s then-wife Marla Maples. Though the story was published anyway, Pecker acknowledged he’d attempted to get it stopped.

According to the Associated Press, the reason for the long-running collaboration, Bove noted, was that Trump helped drive magazine sales -- and Pecker wanted to maintain close access to him.

In the 1990s, Pecker testified, the publisher launched Trump Style, a magazine built around Trump’s brand and real estate holdings.

3:15 p.m. ET: Pecker says Trump was angry over McDougal’s CNN interview

Trump was furious when former Playboy model Karen McDougal gave an interview to CNN’s Anderson Cooper in March 2018, Pecker testified.

Pecker said he explained to the then-president that the agreement had been changed to allow her to speak to the media after a November 2016 Wall Street Journal article about the tabloid’s $150,000 payout to McDougal.

3:05 p.m. ET: Pecker testifies about visit to the White House

Pecker testified that Trump invited him to a White House dinner in July 2017 to thank him for helping the campaign -- and again for an update on McDougal at the event.

The ex-publisher said Trump encouraged him to bring anyone he wanted, recounting that the then-president told him, "it’s your dinner."

According to the Associated Press, Pecker testified that he and Howard, the then-National Enquirer editor, as well as some of his other business associates, posed for photos with Trump in the Oval Office. Pecker said others at the dinner included Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and press adviser Sean Spicer.

2:15 p.m. ET: Court breaks for lunch

Trump left the courtroom without addressing reporters in the hallway.

2:05 p.m. ET: Trump asked Pecker for update on ‘our girl’

Pecker recalled going to another meeting with Trump on Jan. 6, 2017 — about two weeks before his inauguration — where he and the then president-elect discussed McDougal.

Pecker said he was brought into Trump’s office just as Trump was ending a meeting with then-FBI Director James Comey, press adviser Sean Spicer, then-GOP chair Reince Prebius and future Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who were updating Trump on a shooting that day at the Fort Lauderdale airport.

As Pecker recalled it, Trump introduced him to the group of aides as the National Enquirer owner and joked: "He probably knows more than anyone in this room."

After dismissing the aides, Trump asked the former tabloid publisher for an update on "our girl," meaning McDougal, according to Pecker.

Pecker said he reassured Trump that McDougal was keeping quiet, and Trump thanked him for handling the matters with McDougal and Dino Sajudin, the former doorman at one of Trump’s buildings who was also paid for his claims, the Associated Press reported. 

1:55 p.m. ET: Pecker says Cohen complained about not getting a bonus from Trump

In late 2016, Pecker says he was summoned to Cohen’s office in Trump Tower to discuss concerns about damaging material about Trump that may have been left over in the National Enquirer’s boxes.

The Associated Press reported that Cohen also complained about not getting a bonus from Trump and suggested that he’d paid off Stormy Daniels with his own personal funds, according to Pecker.

During that conversation, the former president entered the room, Pecker said. Cohen then falsely told Trump that he’d personally reviewed the boxes for damaging information, according to Pecker. On their way out, Pecker let Trump know Cohen was worried about his bonus, adding that he believed Cohen "would throw himself in front of a bus for you."

Pecker then recalled Trump’s response: "He said, ‘Don’t worry about him. I’ll take care of him.’"

1:45 p.m. ET: Pecker says Trump was irate over Wall Street Journal article

Pecker recalled an irate Trump calling him a day after The Wall Street Journal published an article on the eve of the 2016 election.

The article broke the news of the National Enquirer’s $150,000 payment to McDougal for the rights to the her story claiming an affair with Trump.

Pecker said he told Trump a small number of people at the Enquirer knew of the deal and he speculated to Trump that perhaps McDougal or someone connected with her had tipped off the Journal.

The Journal ran its story on Nov. 4, 2016, just four days before the election. The next day, Pecker testified, Cohen texted him saying "the boss" wanted to speak to him. Trump then called him.

Pecker admitted that American Media Inc.'s response to the Journal that the company had "not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump" was a lie.

12:20 p.m. ET: Testimony turns to Stormy Daniels

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass is beginning to ask Pecker about porn actor Stormy Daniels and her claim of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump. The former president denies it happened.

11:26 a.m. ET: Court on break

Trump left the courtroom after a break from the morning’s testimony

11:15 a.m. ET: Pecker talks payments and agreement with Karen McDougal

Pecker testified that he used an outside firm to create the invoice for the payments to McDougal in order to keep the transaction off his company’s financial logs, fearing scrutiny from his staff.

"I believed that payment would raise a lot of questions and issues and be communicated to the rest of the editors, which is something I didn’t want to happen," Pecker said.

Based on his experience with Schwarzenegger, Pecker said he "wanted to be comfortable that the agreement that we were going to prepare for Karen McDougal met all the obligations with respect to a campaign contribution."

"I called Michael Cohen and I told him that we finalized an agreement with Karen McDougal, the contract was bullet proof and we consulted with a campaign attorney," Pecker added.

McDougal’s contract gave American Media Inc., which owned the National Enquirer and several fitness magazines, exclusive rights to McDougal’s story on any relationship with a married man.

Pecker said that clause was specifically about Trump. The contact said McDougal would have fitness and aging-related columns and blog posts in various American Media magazines and sites, but Pecker said that provision was really just a cover story -- and not the type that appears on a magazine. He said it was meant to "validate" the $150,000 she was getting.

10:45 a.m. ET: Arnold Schwarzenegger discussed during Pecker testimony

Pecker testified he was leery of paying McDougal on Trump’s behalf because of trouble he ran into with an earlier "catch-and-kill" arrangement benefiting Arnold Schwarzenegger during the movie star’s run for governor of California in 2003.

Schwarzenegger had been a prominent figure in several fitness magazines Pecker’s company was acquiring, appearing on their covers more than 70 times and acting as an editor at large.

After Schwarzenegger announced his run for governor, "a number of women called up the National Enquirer" with stories about Schwarzenegger. The deal "I had was that I would call him and advise him of any stories that were out there, and I ended up buying them for a period of time."

Pecker said he didn’t publish the stories. One of the women ended up going to the Los Angeles Times, which did run a story. Asked for comment, Pecker recounted Schwarzenegger telling reporters: "Ask David Pecker."

10:30 a.m. ET: Pecker testimony continues

Pecker recalled getting a telephone call from Trump during the tabloid’s pursuit of McDougal’s claims of an extramarital affair with Trump, the Associated Press reported. 

"When I got on the phone, Mr. Trump said to me, ‘I spoke to Michael. Karen is a nice girl. Is it true that a Mexican group is looking to buy her story for $8 million?’ I said, ‘I absolutely don’t believe there’s a Mexican group out there looking to buy her story for $8 million.’"

Trump then asked Pecker what he should do, the ex-publisher said. Pecker testified he told Trump, "I think you should buy the story" and keep it quiet.

9:30 a.m. ET: Trump back in court, David Pecker returns to the stand

The former president walked to the defense table where he stood briefly and whispered into lawyer Todd Blanche’s ear before sitting down.

Before entering court, Trump addressed reporters in the hallway. He began by speaking not about the trial but instead about the economy, griping about gas prices and the latest economic numbers.

He also again addressed the Supreme Court, which is hearing oral arguments today on whether he’s immune from prosecution in a case charging him with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

"I would have loved to have been there," Trump said.

Meanwhile, David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher who has been testifying as a prosecution witness, is back on the stand.

9 a.m. ET: Trump talks Supreme Court arguments during campaign stop

Earlier, Trump addressed Thursday’s Supreme Court arguments from New York, where he was visiting construction workers for a campaign stop before heading to court in his criminal hush money case.

"A president has to have immunity," he told reporters as a crowd cheered behind him. "If you don’t have immunity, you just have a ceremonial president."

He again complained that the judge in his case in New York wouldn’t excuse him from court to attend the Supreme Court arguments in person. 

Criminal defendants are expected to appear in court every day during their trials.

8:30 a.m. ET: ‘No idea’ if I'd pay a contempt fine, Trump says

trump speaks to press

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with members of the press at the construction site of the new J.P. Morgan Chase building on April 25, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Trump, visiting construction workers for a campaign stop on Thursday before heading to court in his criminal hush money case, was dismissive when asked about prosecutors' push for the judge to hold him in contempt of violating a gag order because of his social media posts.

"Oh, I have no idea," Trump said when asked whether he would pay the $1,000 fine for each of 10 posts. He then said, "They’ve taken my constitutional right away with a gag order."

Trump also briefly remarked on his friendship with tabloid publisher David Pecker, who began testimony Tuesday and is expected to retake the stand again Thursday.

Trump was asked by reporters what he thought of the testimony and when he last spoke to Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, and Trump responded by saying, "David’s been very nice, a nice guy."

Trump's hush money case

The indictment against Trump centers on payoffs allegedly made to two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. 

Trump’s former lawyer and "fixer," Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the publisher of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid to pay McDougal $150,000. 

Trump's company, the Trump Organization, then reimbursed Cohen and paid him bonuses and extra payments – all of which, prosecutors say, were falsely logged as legal expenses in company records. Over several months, Cohen said the company paid him $420,000.

Payments were also allegedly made to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged Trump had out of wedlock.

The indictment, brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, made Trump the first ex-president ever to face criminal charges. 

Trump has denied the accusations.

Who is appearing in court?

Witnesses in the trial include Pecker, Cohen, Daniels, and McDougal. 

Hope Hicks, Trump’s former White House communications director, is also appearing.

Who are the jurors?

After being forced to release a seated juror, the judge on Thursday ordered the media not to report on where potential jurors have worked – even when stated in open court – and to be careful about revealing information about those who will sit in judgment of the former president. Here's what we can report.

Juror 1 and foreperson: A man who lives in New York City and has no children. Loves the outdoors and gets his news from The New York Times, Daily Mail, Fox News and MSNBC. 

When asked by Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche if he was aware Trump is charged in other cases and jurisdictions, and how that affects him, the man said, "I don’t have an opinion." 

Juror 2: A man who said he follows Trump’s former lawyer, Cohen, on "X," formerly known as Twitter. He also revealed he follows other right-wing accounts including Trump’s former adviser, Kellyanne Conway. 

He has said he would unfollow Cohen as he may be a witness in the trial. 

Juror 3: A middle-aged man who lives in Manhattan. He grew up in Oregon. He gets his news from The New York Times and Google. 

Juror 4: A man who lived in New York City for 15 years. He is originally from California. He is married with three children and a wife who is a teacher. He has served on a jury before – both on a grand jury and a jury in a criminal trial. 

The juror said he gets his news from "a smattering" of sources and does not use social media. 

Juror 5: A young woman who is a New York native. 

She gets most of her news from Google and Tiktok. 

Juror 6: A young woman who lives in Manhattan and likes to dance. 

Juror 7: A man who is married with two children. 

He gets most of his news from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and The Washington Post. The man has said he is aware there are other lawsuits but said, "I’m not sure that I know anyone’s character." 

Juror 8: No information has been released about this juror. 

Juror 9: A woman who lives in Manhattan. She is not married and has no children. 

She has never served on a jury before and does not watch the news. However, she said she does have email subscriptions to CNN and The New York Times. She follows social media accounts and listens to podcasts. She also enjoys watching reality TV. 

Juror 10: A man who lives in Manhattan. He is not married and has no children. He does have a roommate who works in accounting. He rarely follows the news but he does listen to podcasts on behavioral psychology. 

Juror 11: No information has been released about this juror. 

Juror 12: No information has been released about this juror. 

How long will the trial last? 

The trial is expected to last anywhere from six to eight weeks. Trump is expected to attend court each day.

How can I watch the Trump trial?

The trial is not being televised. Instead, news reporters and producers will have the ability to sit inside the courtroom and deliver information to the public.

How many court cases is Trump involved in?

As of this report, Trump is currently involved in four criminal cases, which includes the hush money case. 

A second case out of Fulton County, Georgia, has charged Trump, as well as 18 others, with participating in a scheme to illegally attempt to overturn the former president’s loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. 

Trump is also involved in a third criminal case out of Washington, D.C., which charged him with allegedly conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

And his fourth case involves classified documents that Trump illegally retained at his Mar-a-Lago estate after he left the White House. 

RELATED: A guide to Trump’s court cases

The Associated Press, FOX News, FOX 5 NY and Catherine Stoddard contributed to this report.