“The National Enquirer, a Trump Rumor, and Another Secret Payment to Buy Silence”

Ronan Farrow for the New Yorker:

Late in 2015, a former Trump Tower doorman named Dino Sajudin met with a reporter from American Media, Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, at a McDonald’s in Pennsylvania. A few weeks earlier, Sajudin had signed a contract with A.M.I., agreeing to become a source and to accept thirty thousand dollars for exclusive rights to information he had been told: that Donald Trump, who had launched his Presidential campaign five months earlier, may have fathered a child with a former employee in the late nineteen-eighties. Sajudin declined to comment for this story. However, six current and former A.M.I. employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared legal retaliation by the company, said that Sajudin had told A.M.I. the names of the alleged mistress and child. Reporters at A.M.I. had spent weeks investigating the allegations, and Sajudin had passed a lie-detector test, during which he testified that high-level Trump employees, including Trump’s head of security, Matthew Calamari, had told him the story…..

McDougal is now suing A.M.I. Her complaint states that she was not aware that A.M.I. consulted with Cohen during her negotiations with the company, as was later reported by the Times, and argues that A.M.I. was attempting to “illegally influence the 2016 presidential election.” (A.M.I.’s lawyers, in a response, argued that the company’s actions were protected by the First Amendment and that it was being unfairly penalized for its editorial decision not to run a story.) Stephanie Clifford is suing Cohen for defamation and for a release from her nondisclosure agreement. Her suit alleges that Cohen’s payment was a violation of campaign-finance law, because it suppressed speech “on a matter of public concern about a candidate for President.” (Cohen has said that Clifford’s story is false and that he made the payment with his own money to protect Trump and his family. Trump has said that he did not know of the payment.)

A nonprofit watchdog organization and a left-leaning political group have filed formal complaints requesting that the Justice Department, the Office of Government Ethics, and the Federal Election Commission examine whether the payments to Clifford and McDougal violated federal election law, since Trump did not include them on his financial-disclosure forms. Federal election law bars individuals from making contributions of more than five thousand four hundred dollars to a candidate during an election cycle.

Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, said of the payment to Sajudin, “As with the payment to Stormy Daniels and the McDougal matter, there’s certainly enough smoke here to merit further investigation. However, there are questions of both fact and law that would be relevant before concluding that there’s a likely campaign-finance violation.” One question would be whether the intent was to help the campaign. The timing, months after Trump announced his Presidential candidacy, could be “good circumstantial evidence” of that. Hasen added that the cases involving A.M.I. raised difficult legal questions, because media companies have various exemptions from campaign-finance law. However, he said, “If a corporation that has a press function is being used for non-press purposes to help a candidate win an election, then the press exemption would not apply to that activity.”

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