Who Is David Pecker, the First Witness in the Trump Hush-Money Trial?

David Pecker, the former president and CEO of American Media Inc., has taken the stand as the first witness in former President Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money trial.

Pecker, prosecutors are expected to argue, aided Trump in numerous “catch-and-kill” schemes to bury negative stories about the then-presidential candidate as he ran for office in 2016. At the center of this case, Trump is accused of falsifying business records related to reimbursement of $130,000 paid to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump from years prior. (Trump has denied all wrongdoing.)

Here’s what to know about David Pecker, the prosecution’s first witness in the historic trial.

Who is David Pecker?

David Pecker is the former president and CEO of American Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of the tabloid the National Enquirer and a longtime friend to Trump.

Ahead of the 2016 election, Pecker met with Trump and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen with the intention of suppressing negative stories about Trump by buying the rights to the stories and refraining from publishing them, according to a 2018 non-prosecution agreement between AMI and the U.S. Department of Justice. Pecker was given immunity from prosecution in 2018 by the DOJ.

How is he related to this case?

Prosecutors are expected to argue that Pecker was a key figure in the alleged scheme to pay off adult film star Stormy Daniels when she intended to go public with claims that she had an affair with Trump ahead of the 2016 election. Pecker told Trump that Daniels was looking to sell a story about the sexual encounter (which Trump denies), according to the New York Times. Soon after, Cohen reached out to Daniels offering a $130,000 payment.

“According to the prosecutor, Trump and Cohen came to an agreement with Pecker that Pecker and the Enquirer would help the Trump campaign,” says Chris Edelson, assistant professor in the Department of Government at American University.

Prosecutors will argue that Pecker aided Trump in numerous “catch and kill” schemes, in which the National Enquirer purchased the rights to stories but never ran them. “By paying for it, and basically having them sign a nondisclosure agreement or a contract, they were able to kill stories,” says Joel Kaplan, professor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

In one instance, Pecker and Dylan Howard, former editor-in-chief at the National Enquirer, coordinated with the Trump campaign to pay model and actress Karen McDougal $150,000 to purchase the rights to her claim that she engaged in a relationship with Trump, according to a Federal Elections Commission agreement with AMI.

In a 2018 non-prosecution agreement, AMI admitted that the McDougal payment was “substantially more” than the company might typically pay for a story, because Trump’s lawyer Cohen had assured Pecker that AMI would be reimbursed for the payment. Cohen has said Trump brokered the McDougal deal with Pecker. Trump has denied he directed Cohen to break the law.

What could his testimony reveal?

In this case, Trump is accused of falsifying business records related to the Stormy Daniels payment in order to corrupt the 2016 election. Pecker’s testimony will be key for the prosecution to show that important information was withheld from the American public, says Kaplan.

“By entering into this catch and kill agreement, he was able to prevent the publication not just by the National Enquirer, but by anyone, of information that could have been important to the American people before they voted,” Kaplan says. “That’s the theory of the case.”

Prosecutors will likely use Pecker’s testimony to establish a pattern that shows the payments were part of an intentional cover-up, experts say. “What the prosecutors want to show the jury is that Trump and Cohen had a plan. They knew there was information that could be damaging, whether it’s true or not, and that they wanted to prevent it from getting out before the election.” says Edelson. “If they can show that this was part of a broader scheme, it wasn’t something that happened once, I think that that paints a picture for the jury that this was a coordinated planning conspiracy.”

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