Berliner Tageblatt - Trump jury gets 'catch and kill' class on burying negative press

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Trump jury gets 'catch and kill' class on burying negative press
Trump jury gets 'catch and kill' class on burying negative press / Photo: © GETTY IMAGES/AFP

Trump jury gets 'catch and kill' class on burying negative press

A colorful former tabloid publisher took the witness stand Tuesday at Donald Trump's "hush money" trial and described how he suppressed negative stories about the real estate tycoon, a practice known as "catch and kill."

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Trump, 77, the first former US president to face criminal charges, is accused of falsifying business records to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels over a 2006 sexual encounter that could have damaged his 2016 presidential bid.

Prosecutors allege that Trump engaged in "election fraud" by having his then personal lawyer Michael Cohen make a $130,000 payment to the adult film actress on the eve of the 2016 election in which he defeated Hillary Clinton.

David Pecker, 72, former publisher of the National Enquirer, was the first witness called to testify by prosecutors at Trump's high-stakes trial, which comes less than seven months ahead of his expected rematch against President Joe Biden.

Prosecutors are seeking with Pecker's testimony to demonstrate that the "catch and kill" scheme of squashing negative stories was one commonly used by Trump and Cohen, the once loyal "fixer" who has since turned against his former boss.

Pecker took the stand after a nearly 90-minute hearing during which Judge Juan Merchan was asked by prosecutors to hold Trump in contempt of court for violating a partial gag order preventing him from publicly attacking witnesses, jurors or court staff.

Merchan heard arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys but did not issue an immediate ruling.

Pecker said he has known Trump since 1989 and described him as a friend -- "I would call him Donald."

He said National Enquirer readers "loved" Trump, who starred in the hit reality television series "The Apprentice" before going into politics in 2015.

- 'Help the campaign' -

Pecker said he agreed at an August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower with Trump, Cohen and Trump's personal assistant Hope Hicks to help his friend's nascent campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

"I said what I would do is, I would run or publish positive stories about Mr Trump and I would publish negative stories about his opponents."

Pecker said he would also warn Cohen about potential negative stories about Trump.

"When I notified Michael Cohen of a story that was a negative story, he would try to vet it himself, see if the story was true or not," Pecker said. "And he would go to the individual publication to make sure the story wasn't published and get it killed."

Prosecutors walked Pecker through two payments made to squash negative stories. One involved a Trump Tower doorman who was peddling a false claim that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock.

The other involved a former Playboy magazine model, Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with the married Trump. She was paid $150,000 not to go public with the story.

Pecker is to return to the witness stand when the trial resumes on Thursday.

- Trump slams judge -

Before Pecker testified, prosecutors -- at a hearing held without the jury present -- accused Trump of brazenly violating the gag order imposed by the judge.

Trump's "willful" attacks on witnesses "clearly violate" the gag order, prosecutor Chris Conroy said, urging the judge to fine him $1,000 per violation.

"We are not yet seeking an incarceratory penalty," Conroy said, but the court should "remind him that incarceration is an option should it be necessary."

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and Cohen are both expected to appear as prosecution witnesses at the trial.

Trump has repeatedly attacked them on Truth Social, calling them, for example, "sleaze bags who have, with their lies and misrepresentations, cost our country dearly."

"I'm not allowed to talk but people are allowed to talk about me," he said. "They can lie but I'm not allowed to say anything."

He complained that Biden is "out campaigning and I'm here in the courtroom."

"It's a very unfair situation."