Hush money trial sees texts negotiating deal for ‘blockbuster Trump story’ about Karen McDougal ‘affair’

Keith Davidson, an attorney for Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, flagged stories involving Trump’s alleged affairs to tabloid editors, jurors hear

Alex Woodward
in New York County Supreme Court, Criminal Term
Tuesday 30 April 2024 19:40 BST
Trump complains about temperature of courthouse: 'An ice box'

The attorney who represented a former Playboy model who alleged a months-long affair with Donald Trump had offered a “blockbuster” story to a tabloid editor, kicking off negotiations that helped his 2016 campaign bury a potentially campaign-killing story in the months before Election Day.

Jurors in the former president’s hush money trial on Tuesday saw a series of text messages between attorney Keith Davidson, who represented Karen McDougal at the time, and then-National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard, who brokered a deal with publisher David Pecker to buy the rights to Ms McDougal’s story for $150,000.

“I have a blockbuster trump [sic] story,” Mr Davidson wrote to Mr Howard on 7 June 2016, according to messages shown in court.

“It was sort of an entree or a teaser to Dylan to let him know perhaps I had an opportunity for him,” Mr Davidson testified on Tuesday. “Regarding the interaction between Karen McDougal and Donald Trump.”

Mr Howard promised to “talk 1st thing.”

“I will get you more than ANYONE for it,” Mr Howard wrote, according to messages shown in court. “You know why…”

“I don’t know if I had a clear understanding at that time but I knew Dylan’s boss David Pecker and Mr Trump were longtime friends,” Mr Davidson told the court.

A contract was finalised in August 2016.

A courtroom sketch depicts Donald Trump and Justice Juan Merchan watching Keith Davidson testify during the former president’s hush money trial on 30 April.
A courtroom sketch depicts Donald Trump and Justice Juan Merchan watching Keith Davidson testify during the former president’s hush money trial on 30 April. (REUTERS)

An agreement between Ms McDougal and American Media Inc granted her a monthly column on aging and fitness for Star magazine, another one for OK! magazine, four posts a month on Radar Online, among other publishing perks, according to a contract shown in court last week.

But it granted the company “limited life story rights” that are limited to “any romantic, personal and/or physical relationship McDougal has ever had with any then-married man.”

Mr Pecker testified last week that the true nature of the agreement was to suppress her story to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

In August 2015, in the weeks after Mr Trump announced his run for the White House, Mr Pecker agreed to serve as the “eyes and ears” of the campaign by identifying – and purchasing – politically compromising stories he never intended to publish, while boosting favourable stories about Mr Trump in his magazines and websites, according to Mr Pecker.

Weeks before Election Day, more allegations emerged from another client of Mr Davidson’s: adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Mr Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen ultimately wired $130,000 to Mr Davidson for Ms Daniels, according to testimony and records shown in court.

The former president is criminally accused of falsifying business records to cover up those “hush money” payments as legal expenses.

Donald Trump appears in a Manhattan criminal courtroom on 30 August.
Donald Trump appears in a Manhattan criminal courtroom on 30 August. (AP)

Mr Howard wanted to know whether Mr Davidson’s story involved Mr Trump cheating on his wife Melania Trump, or whether the “affair was during his marriage to Melania,” according to messages shown to the court.

At a meeting with Mr Howard and Mr Davidson in June 2016, Ms McDougal “alleged that she had a romantic affair with Donald Trump some years prior” that was “sexual,” according to Mr Davidson.

That meeting was “sort of a proffer session where Ms McDougal would tell her story to Dylan Howard on behalf of AMI so that Dylan could gauge interest in the story, whether or not AMI did or did not have interest in the story,” Mr Davidson said.

Mr Davidson also was negotiating a deal for the story with ABC News, he said.

“I was trying to play two entities off of each other … to create a sense of urgency, if you will,” he testified on Tuesday.

Ms McDougal was trying to “rejuvenate her career” and “make money” but wanted to “avoid telling the story and … becoming a scarlet letter, ‘other woman,’” Mr Davidson said.

“We are going to lay it on thick for her,” Mr Howard wrote Mr Davidson in July 2016, according to messages shown in court.

“Good,” Mr Davidson replied. “Throw in an ambassadorship for me. I’m thinking of Isle of Man.”

He testified that the message was “sort of in jest,” he said on Tuesday.

“I don’t even think the Isle of Man is a country,” Mr Davidson said. “I know they don’t have an ambassador. But I think it was in reference to Mr Trump’s candidacy. … That somehow if Karen did this deal it would somehow help Trump’s candidacy.”

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