The Federal Election Commission slapped the National Enquirer’s parent company with a $187,500 fine for its role in 2016 in silencing a Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Donald Trump.
The fine is a coda of sorts to the Justice Department’s probe into the 2016 hush money scheme. Trump himself has so far been able to avoid prosecution, but his former lawyer, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for orchestrating the payouts to Karen McDougal, the Playboy model, as well as to another woman who claimed to have had sexual relations with Trump.
A company then known as American Media Inc., which owns the Enquirer and other tabloids, has now reached a settlement with the FEC, which was investigating the $150,000 AMI paid McDougal to secure the rights to her story. At the time, AMI was run by David Pecker, a longtime Trump pal.
The FEC settlement comes after AMI reached a non-prosecution deal with the Justice Department in 2018. AMI said it was agreeing to the FEC fine to avoid litigation, but that it contested some of FEC’s legal conclusions about the company’s conduct.
The commission, meanwhile, cited the 2018 non-prosecution agreement in Tuesday’s announcement of the fine. In the DOJ agreement, AMI admitted that the “principle reason” it gave McDougal $150,000 to buy her story was to “suppress” her story from coming out and to “prevent” it from influencing the 2016 election.
After investigating complaints brought by several progressive organizations and watchdog groups, the FEC concluded that AMI’s payment to McDougal amounted to an “in-kind contribution” to Trump’s campaign and it did not fit under a press exemption, as AMI had claimed in the FEC’s probe. It cited AMI’s and Pecker’s acknowledgment, in the DOJ agreement, that they were aware that the undisclosed contribution was unlawful.
“As such, the information indicates that AMI and Pecker knew that AMI’s payment to McDougal violated the Act, and they acted voluntarily and with awareness of unlawfulness when they negotiated the agreement with McDougal and made the 10 corresponding payment,” the FEC said. AMI, however, is continuing to deny that it knowingly and willfully broke campaign finance law.
Read the FEC’s announcement — which was released by Common Cause, one of the groups that filed a complaint — below: