Arnold Schwarzenegger dragged into Trump hush money trial as tabloid boss reveals plan to buy damaging stories

David Pecker testified that The Terminator actor asked him not to publish negative stories about him while he was running for governor of California

Alex Woodward,Kelly Rissman
Thursday 25 April 2024 19:41 BST
Related video: Donald Trump meets New Yorkers before resuming hush money trial

The tabloid publisher behind a “catch and kill” scheme to bury compromising stories about Donald Trump testified in court that he previously had a similar arrangement with Hollywood actor turned ex-governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.

David Pecker, the former publisher of tabloid giant National Enquirer, is testifying for the third day of the former president’s historic criminal trial.

In his testimony, Mr Pecker has told the court about his alleged agreement with Mr Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen to “kill” stories about the then-presidential candidate’s alleged affairs in order to boost his chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

Adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal both claimed to have had affairs with the Mr Trump, who allegedly used Mr Pecker to buy the rights to their stories only to ensure they’d never be published.

On Thursday, Mr Pecker explained why he was skeptical to buy up politically linked stories – and in doing so revealed a similar plan not to publish negative stories about Schwarzenegger.

The former tabloid boss set the scene back to 2002, when health and fitness publications run by bodybuilder-turned-publisher Joe Weider went up for sale.

With Mr Pecker’s American Media poised to take up those titles, Schwarzenegger asked Mr Pecker to name him an editor-at-large of the publications, according to Mr Pecker’s testimony.

Mr Pecker claimed that Schwarzenegger also wanted an “agreement” regarding the tabloids Globe and National Enquirer.

“I’ve had a number of litigation and lawsuits in both magazines because you always run negative stories about me,” Mr Pecker recalled Schwarzenegger saying.

“I plan on running for governor and I would like you to not publish any negative stories about me now and in the future, and I’ll continue being the editor of Muscle & Fitness and Flex and be a spokesperson.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger pictured in October 2023 as he promotes the second season of his Netflix show
Arnold Schwarzenegger pictured in October 2023 as he promotes the second season of his Netflix show (Matt Crossick/PA Wire)

Mr Pecker said he agreed to the arrangement.

The Terminator actor announced his gubernatorial bid on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in August 2003.

Mr Pecker testified that “a number of women called up the National Enquirer” after that announcement, claiming they had stories to sell on “different relationships, or contacts, or sexual harassment that they felt that Arnold Schwarzenegger did”.

“The agreement I had with Arnold is I would call him and advise him of other stories that were out there and I would acquire them, buy them for a period of time,” the former publisher told the court.

After Schwarzenegger was elected governor, one of the women whose story had been acquired by American Media took her story to The Los Angeles Times.

“It was very embarrassing,” Mr Pecker testified. “Most of the press approached Arnold when he was governor. And his comment was: ‘Ask my friend David Pecker.’”

The ordeal “made me sensitive about buying any stories in the future. That’s how I became sensitive about this topic,” Mr Pecker told the court.

The allegations involving an agreement with Schwarzenegger predate the so-called “catch and kill” scheme central to the current criminal case against the former president.

Mr Trump is accused of orchestrating a plot to kill compromising stories of his alleged affairs with women. He then allegedly falsfied business records to cover up reimbursements to his then-attorney Cohen as “legal expenses”.

Manhattan prosecutors have charged him with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to the so-called hush money payments made to Ms Daniels in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election.

Ms Daniels’ alleged affair with Mr Trump was in 2006, while Ms McDougal claimed to have had a 10-month affair with the former president starting in June 2006. Mr Trump married his now-wife Melania in 2005.

He has denied the affairs took place and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Mr Pecker testified on Tuesday that an agreement drawn up at Trump Tower in August 2015, shortly after Mr Trump launched his campaign, included his pledge to “run or publish positive stories about Mr Trump and publish negative stories about his opponents”.

“I would also be the eyes and ears.”

When it came to any tips about women selling stories about Mr Trump, Mr Pecker “would notify Michael Cohen, and he would be able to have them killed in the magazine, or not be published, or somebody would have to purchase them,” he added.

The Independent has contacted representatives for Schwarzenegger for comment.

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