Who Is David Pecker—and What’d He Have to Tell Trump’s Jury?

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The first criminal trial of a former US president is underway, with Donald Trump facing 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to hush-money payments allegedly made in 2016 to cover up an affair he had with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Here’s the latest—the key updates and absurd moments—from the historic trial.

“The people call David Pecker.”

And with that, the first witness in Donald Trump’s criminal trial took the stand on Monday, where prosecutors questioned the former president and CEO of American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, about the practice of “catch and kill” to buy exclusive stories to prevent them from appearing in other publications.

“We used checkbook journalism, and we paid for stories,” Pecker said when asked about the tactic. Prosecutors have said that Pecker’s testimony will reveal his deep involvement in helping the Trump campaign kill stories that were unflattering to the then–presidential candidate. As my colleague David Corn wrote in a terrific curtain-raiser last week:

Across decades, Trump pumped up his image as a swinger who viewed women as trophies and toys, with their value dependent on their looks. The Stormy Daniels case snugly fits into this narrative: Trump was a player who apparently cheated on his wife (a new mother) with a porn star. That could have been hardcore National Enquirer material—except that Trump was an important operator within the tabloid cosmos and a close pal of David Pecker, the president of the company that published the National Enquirer. Pecker and the magazine’s editor conspired with Trump to prevent Daniels from going public with her allegation right before Election Day in 2016. That resulted in the $130,000 hush-money payoff to her. And that payment was falsely recorded on the Trump Organization books as a legal expense—which is the basis of the criminal case against Trump. The specific question at hand is whether this phony bookkeeping was done to cover up what might have been an illegal campaign expenditure concocted by Trump and his fixer Michael Cohen to influence the election.

Sounds scummy, right? But Pecker’s deep involvement in the sordid extends far beyond Trump. Remember those leaked sexts between Jeff Bezos and his now-fiancée, Lauren Sánchez? Bezos accused American Media of trying to extort him over those compromising messages, which kicked off an FBI investigation into Pecker’s alleged efforts to drum up business with Saudi Arabia and target a mutual enemy of Mohammed bin Salman and…you guessed it, Donald Trump.

Pecker testified for about 30 minutes today. He’ll retake the stand tomorrow, when perhaps we’ll hear lurid details that never made it to print, such as Trump’s alleged request to be spanked and watch hours of Shark Week.

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