In yet another sign that the walls are closing in on President Donald Trump after his former "fixer" Michael Cohen implicated him in a criminal conspiracy on Tuesday, two top executives at American Media Inc. (AMI)—which publishes the notorious tabloid The National Enquirer—have reportedly been granted immunity by federal prosecutors in exchange for information on Trump's role in hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
"Donald Trump is in serious legal jeopardy."
—Rep. Ted Lieu
Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman—who first reported on the immunity deals for David Pecker and Dylan Howard, AMI's chairman and chief content officer respectively—noted on Thursday that AMI was "Trump's most powerful media ally next to Fox News."
"Pecker's apparent decision to corroborate Cohen's account, and implicate Trump in a federal crime, is another vivid example of how isolated Trump is becoming," Sherman added, pointing out that Pecker and Trump had been close friends for years.
Speaking anonymously to Vanity Fair, one Trump friend said, "Holy shit, I thought Pecker would be the last one to turn."
Responding to news of Pecker's immunity deal on Thursday, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) wrote that the "guilty plea of Michael Cohen and now the grant of immunity to National Enquirer CEO David Pecker confirm two facts: (1) felony violations of our campaign finance laws are crimes; (2) Donald Trump is in serious legal jeopardy."
The guilty plea of Michael Cohen and now the grant of immunity to National Enquirer CEO David Pecker confirm two facts:— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) August 23, 2018
(1) felony violations of our campaign finance laws are CRIMES;
(2) @realDonaldTrump is in serious legal jeopardy. #ThursdayThoughts https://t.co/h53s7QBi1W
Just months before the 2016 election, AMI—while it was reportedly in communication with Cohen—purchased the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal's story alleging she had an affair with Trump, but never ran it—a tactic known as "catch and kill." Cohen subsequently sought to buy the rights to McDougal's story in an effort to ensure that the story would be buried.
Demonstrating that Trump was well aware of the attempt to silence McDougal, Cohen last month released a brief audiotape in which Trump can be heard asking, "What do we got to pay for this?"
"I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David," Cohen said in the recording, likely referencing AMI chief David Pecker.
Under oath in a federal court this week, Cohen admitted that he made the hush payments to McDougal and Daniels "at the direction" of Trump—an admission that legal experts say implicates Trump in serious campaign finance violations.
As the Wall Street Journal noted on Thursday, AMI executives "were involved in both hush-money deals that formed the basis of Mr. Cohen's guilty plea to campaign-finance violations," an indication that Pecker and Howard likely provided significant information to federal prosecutors.
"This goes a long way to explaining why Trump is upset about 'flipping,'" University of Alabama law professor Joyce Vance noted, referring to Trump's insistence during a "Fox & Friends" interview early Thursday morning that flipping on higher-ups "almost ought to be illegal."