Josh_kovensky

Josh Kovensky

Josh Kovensky is a reporter for Talking Points Memo in New York City. He previously worked for the Kyiv Post in Ukraine, covering politics, business, and corruption there. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago.

Articles by Josh

Manhattan federal prosecutors announced today that they have struck a deal with National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., a surprise follow-on to Michael Cohen’s sentencing to three years behind bars.

National Enquirer played a shadily crucial but hidden role in the 2016 presidential campaign: paying former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for exclusive access to publish allegations that she had an affair with Donald Trump. The paper then killed the story.

According to the terms of the plea, AMI admitted making the payment and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in exchange for non being prosecuted on the charges, as long as it engages in no further criminal conduct.

So where does Cohen come in?

The story starts with David Pecker, the media conglomerate’s CEO and a longtime buddy of Trump’s. The two have cooperated together in politics for years, going back to 2000, when Pecker supported Trump in his presidential run on the Reform Party ticket.

In 2015, Pecker told Trump that he would be willing to have the National Enquirer pay off women with whom Trump had allegedly had affairs in exchange for exclusive rights to their stories, allowing the tabloid to keep the allegations silent by not publishing them.

Cohen, who had spent his time as Trump’s fixer threatening journalists and satirists alike, decided to call in the favor: he met with Pecker and another unnamed person in August 2015. In June 2016, when a lawyer for McDougal offered to sell her story of an affair with Trump that went from 2006 to 2007 to a National Enquirer editor, Pecker called Cohen.

“The editor began negotiating for the purchase of the story,” the non-prosecution agreement reads. “AMI communicated to Cohen that it would acquire the story to prevent its publication.”

On Aug. 5, the company inked the $150,000 agreement with McDougal; it later categorically denied to the Wall Street Journal that any agreement existed. The Journal wrote:

In a written statement, the company said it wasn’t buying Ms. McDougal’s story for $150,000, but rather two years’ worth of her fitness columns and magazine covers as well as exclusive life rights to any relationship she has had with a then-married man. “AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump,” the statement said.

Cohen moved to take the obligations of the agreement — exclusive rights to the story — onto himself, and paid AMI $125,000. The company said it was a fee for “advisory services.” Cohen has since said that he made the offer at Trump’s direction.

Pecker called to cancel that separate deal with Cohen before the election, but his company stuck to it, giving McDougal a platform for her articles and cover shoots “to keep the model from commenting publicly about her story and her agreement with AMI.”

The campaign finance violation stems from AMI’s false statements about the money it paid to protect Trump’s presidential campaign. Cohen blamed the entire situation on Trump, saying that he was done with doing the president’s “dirty deeds.”

Pecker was granted immunity in August to cooperate with the investigation. Trump org CFO Allen Weisselberg was also granted immunity.

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Michael Cohen defense attorney Guy Petrillo took a moment to toss a barb at Manhattan federal prosecutors during his client’s sentencing hearing, pondering aloud about the “strident tone” of the government’s sentencing memo.

“I’m not going to overly speculate about what’s going on here,” Petrillo said. “A little bit of pride at not being the center of attention?”

“Who knows,” he added, before taking a long pause. “Not for me to say.”

Cohen’s attorney took the dig at Southern District of New York prosecutors in the context of a dispute over whether Cohen’s decision not to sign a formal, ongoing cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors.

“Power to the Southern District,” Petrillo said. “They want to build a bigger case than they’ve already made. God bless them.”

Nicholas Roos, an SDNY federal prosecutor told the court after Petrillo’s remarks that Cohen, in spite of his attorney’s “hypothesizing,” “can’t have it both ways” in terms of getting the benefits of cooperating in terms of a reduced sentence without signing the agreement.

“To do so would send the wrong message,” Roos added, saying that Cohen’s crimes were characterized by “deception, brazenness, and greed” and that they incurred “tremendous societal costs.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday mocked the U.S. case against alleged Russian spy Maria Butina following a Monday report that Butina will plead guilty and cooperate with American investigators.

Butina could face 15 years behind bars “for nothing,” Putin said at a meeting of Russia’s council on human rights and civil society.

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