Four days before the 2016 election, The Wall Street Journal published an explosive story alleging that the National Enquirer paid to hide an alleged affair between Donald Trump and a former Playboy Playmate. It got lost in the noise. Now a new report sheds light on some of the methods seemingly used by the president to keep a lid on his marital indiscretions.
Shortly before Election Day in 2016, a publisher known as American Media, Inc. — which owns the National Enquirer and whose CEO considers himself to be a good friend of Trump's — paid for the exclusive rights to the story of former Playmate Karen McDougal's affair with Trump, according to The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow. They did so as part of a practice known as "catch and kill," in which media outlets acquire the rights to stories that they want to bury by buying them up and then never letting them see the light of day.
It would certainly make sense that they'd want to squash McDougal's story, considering its details. In addition to detailing an alleged affair that included multiple sexual encounters — including one at the same Lake Tahoe event in 2006 where Trump allegedly began his affair with the porn star Stephanie "Stormy Daniels" Clifford — McDougal also described how she grew disgusted with Trump's racist and sexist comments. As described by The New Yorker:
When she raised her concern about her mother’s disapproval to Trump, he replied, “What, that old hag?” (McDougal, hurt, pointed out that Trump and her mother were close in age.) On the night of the Miss Universe pageant McDougal attended, McDougal and a friend rode with Trump in his limousine and the friend mentioned a relationship she had had with an African-American man. According to multiple sources, Trump remarked that the friend liked “the big black dick” and began commenting on her attractiveness and breast size. The interactions angered the friend and deeply offended McDougal.
According to McDougal’s account, her affair with Trump began several months after his son Barron was born.
In order to keep McDougal silent, A.M.I. allegedly agreed to publish a column on aging and fitness by the former model — an agreement that they, for the most part, did not honor, she claims. She also claims that they mostly failed to honor agreements to employ a publicist to help her with interviews and work with McDougal on a skin-care line and a documentary on a medical issue. They became more receptive to McDougal, however, after journalists began to interview her. When stories about Stormy Daniels having an affair with Trump began to circulate, she also began to hear from A.M.I.
A White House spokesperson denied Trump had a relationship with McDougal, calling the reporting “an old story that is just more fake news.”
“The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal,” the spokesperson said on Friday, a departure from what White House Communications Director Hope Hicks told the WSJ in Nov. 2016. Hicks said at the time the allegation of an affair was “totally untrue.”
As Elura Nanos of Law & Crime explained, McDougal may have put herself in a potentially precarious legal situation by revealing her story:
Legally speaking, there’s good news and there’s bad news for Karen McDougal. The bad news is that her contract with AMI is probably enforceable, and she certainly breached it by talking to Ronan Farrow. There are a few arguments McDougal could raise, and while they aren’t likely to prevail, they’ll at least increase the cost of AMI’s litigation. She could argue that the contract wasn’t properly formed, because either she didn’t truly understand the nature of the agreement, or because she was pressured into signing the contract. Such arguments are likely losers – but it doesn’t hurt to try. McDougal could also argue that the scope of the contract is vague, and that “any married man” doesn’t necessarily include Donald Trump. That argument is a little better, but still won’t win, as there seems to be significant evidence that everyone involved knew protecting Trump was the purpose of this agreement.
There is good news, for the former Playmate, though. Breach of contract is not the same thing as commission of a tort. When one person harms another in tort (for example, by defaming, harassing, or assaulting that person), the sky can often be the limit with regard to damages. But with contract law, there’s far less possibility of a courtroom windfall. McDougal’s contract with AMI likely spelled out exactly what AMI’s damages would be if she breached in a “liquidated damages clause”. For all McDougal’s talk of moral epiphanies, it’s far more likely that she made a smart financial choice. If the story is worth more than the liquidated damages clause in the AMI contract, why not sell it?
Appearing on "Good Morning America" Friday, Farrow explained that more than just McDougal's legal status could be in jeopardy.
“This is the interesting and troubling dimension, George, these, you know, dirty stories about high-profile individuals would be used as leverage over those individuals,” Farrow told co-host George Stephanopoulos. “Obviously national security implications here when that happens to be the president.”