The chief executive of the publisher of the National Enquirer has been granted immunity by prosecutors investigating payments arranged by the US president’s former lawyer to silence two women who said they had sex with Donald Trump, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Another AMI executive, Dylan Howard, also received immunity, Vanity Fair magazine reported on Wednesday.
American Media Inc’s (AMI) Chief Executive Officer David Pecker met with prosecutors to describe the involvement of Trump and his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen in hush-money deals with adult-film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources.
Pecker is a longtime friend of Trump and Cohen.
Trump has denied having sex with Daniels or McDougal.
Cooperation with authorities by Pecker and Howard could further implicate Trump in connection with the payments, which prosecutors have said violated campaign finance laws.
Cohen, who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to campaign finance violations and other charges, said in court that Trump directed him to arrange the payments to avoid damaging publicity shortly before the November 2016 election.
Pecker and Howard corroborated Cohen’s account, according to Vanity Fair.
Cohen paid Daniels $US130,000 in exchange for her silence, according to court papers.
McDougal, who has said she had a months-long affair with Trump, sold her story for $US150,000 to AMI but it was never published, a practice known as “catch and kill” to prevent a potentially damaging article from being published.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported, citing people familiar with the arrangement, that the Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush-money payments and stories it killed as part of its relationship with Trump in the run-up to the 2016 election.
The Associated Press reported, citing one person with direct knowledge, that the documents were removed from the safe prior to Trump’s inauguration and that it was unclear if they were moved to another site or destroyed.
Trump initially denied knowing anything about the payments. He later acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
In an interview with Fox News aired on Thursday, Trump said he paid Cohen out of personal funds and the payments were intended to resolve a personal matter, not to benefit his campaign. He told Fox he found out about the McDougal payment “later on.”
Under US election law, campaign contributions, defined as things of value given to a campaign to influence an election, must be disclosed.