In Trump Tower, the President-Elect Praised the Man Who Kept His Secrets

Days before Donald J. Trump became president in early 2017, a handful of advisers, officials and allies descended on his office at Trump Tower: the F.B.I. director, a future secretary of state, his soon-to-be chief of staff — and the publisher of The National Enquirer.

The publisher, David Pecker, may have seemed out of place, but he had just performed an indispensable and confidential service to the Trump campaign: He had paid off a Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump, and a doorman who had heard that Mr. Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock. The future president, triumphant, thanked Mr. Pecker for his service.

That remarkable scene was private until Thursday, when Mr. Pecker recounted it to jurors in Mr. Trump’s Manhattan criminal trial. He described in vivid detail how Mr. Trump revealed their effort to buy and bury damaging stories that could have derailed Mr. Trump’s campaign — a plot at the center of the case.

“He said, ‘I want to thank you for handling the McDougal situation,’ and then he also said, ‘I wanted to thank you for the doorman situation,’” Mr. Pecker testified Thursday. “He was thanking me for buying them and for not publishing any of the stories and helping the way I did. He said that the stories could be very embarrassing.”

Mr. Trump also asked after Ms. McDougal: “How’s our girl?” Mr. Pecker said he replied, “She’s cool. She’s very quiet. No issues.”

Mr. Pecker’s testimony was a stunning moment in the first criminal trial of an American president. Coming on his third day on the stand, it underscored how Mr. Pecker’s support in 2016 has how come back to haunt Mr. Trump in 2024.

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