National Enquirer Publisher Fined $187,500 for Paying Karen McDougal for Trump Affair Story

The publisher of the National Enquirer was fined $187,500 for paying Karen McDougal $150,000 in August 2016 to keep her story about an alleged affair with former President Donald Trump from going public before the election.

The Federal Election Commission said A360 Media's, which was formerly known as American Media, payment to Karen McDougal had affected an election, the Associated Press reported. Campaign finance laws prohibit corporations from working with campaigns to influence elections.

The FEC said the publisher paid "Karen McDougal to purchase a limited life story right combined with its decision not to publish the story, in consultation with an agent of Donald J. Trump and for the purpose of influencing the election, constituted a prohibited corporate in-kind contribution."

The National Enquirer has used a "catch-and-kill" strategy for years to bury stories about Trump and other celebrities by buying the rights and then not publishing them, the Associated Press said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

National Enquirer fined for Trump story
Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in Manhattan on May 18, 2021 in New York City. The National Enquirer's publisher was fined $187,500 for paying Karen McDougal $150,000 in 2016 for her story about an alleged affair with the former president, which they did not publish. James Devaney/GC Images via Getty

The publisher didn't immediately return a message left via its website. An emailed statement from a representative for David Pecker, who stepped down as CEO of the publisher in 2020, said that that Pecker was not a party to the settlement and had not paid a fine.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan agreed in 2018 not to prosecute American Media in exchange for its cooperation in a campaign finance investigation. That probe led to a three-year prison term for Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who had urged the publisher to obtain the rights to McDougal's story and promised to reimburse them for the payment.

Cohen served about a year of his sentence before he was released to home confinement as the coronavirus spread through prisons. Since then, he has spoken out frequently against Trump, and tweeted on Wednesday that he was willing to cooperate with federal prosecutors on any other prosecution of Trump or his associates.

Common Cause, a public interest group which filed the complaint with the FEC in 2018, said in a statement that the fine was a "win for democracy" but said the agency's "failure to hold former-President Trump and his campaign accountable for this violation lays bare the dysfunction at the FEC." In its 2018 complaint, it also asked the agency to investigate Trump and his campaign. In a letter to Common Cause Tuesday, the agency said there was "an insufficient number of votes to find reason to believe that the remaining respondents violated the Federal Election Campaign Act "

Common Cause also noted that the FEC's Republican commissioners had blocked enforcement against Trump for a payment to Stormy Daniels in a decision released last month. The FEC has three Republicans, two Democrats and an Independent commissioner.

Common Cause said that the FEC "has again shown itself incapable of fully enforcing the campaign finance laws passed by Congress."

The National Enquirer and A360 Media are owned by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management. A Chatham representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment. A 2019 deal that would have sold the Enquirer to the former head of the airport newsstand company Hudson News was not completed.

Michael Cohen Trump
FILE - This combination of file photo shows, from left, former President Donald Trump and Michael Cohen. A federal election watchdog fined the publisher of the National Enquirer $187,500 for a payment it made to keep under wraps a story about Trump’s alleged affair with a former Playboy model. AP Photo/File