Inside the National Enquirer’s hunt for a 'blockbuster' Trump story

Text messages shown in court indicate how Karen McDougal's deal was made.

On June 7, 2016, an attorney representing former Playboy model Karen McDougal sent a text message to an editor at the National Enquirer.

"I have a blockbuster Trump story," attorney Keith Davidson wrote to the tabloid editor, Dylan Howard.

Howard responded less than a minute later.

"Talk 1st thing," he replied. "I will get you more than ANYONE for it. You Know why..."

The text messages -- which were introduced as evidence Tuesday in former President Donald Trump's hush money trial -- showed how the National Enquirer first came to be aware of McDougal's claim that she'd had an affair with Trump while he was married. Trump has denied the affair ever occurred.

Jurors were shown the messages Tuesday as Davidson took the stand to give his testimony.

"It was sort of an entrée or teaser to Dylan," Davidson explained of the text messages he sent Howard.

PHOTO: Lawyer Keith Davidson, who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal, testifies during Trump's criminal trial, in Manhattan state court in New York, on April 30, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.
Lawyer Keith Davidson, who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal, shows correspondence with former National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard in regards to the sale of McDougal's story of an alleged affair with former President Donald Trump, during Trump's criminal trial on charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York, on April 30, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.
Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

In follow-up messages on June 10, 2016, which were also shown to jurors, Howard asked Davidson if Trump had been unfaithful in his marriage.

"Did he cheat on Melania?" Howard asked the attorney in a text message. "Do you know if the affair was during his marriage to Melania?"

"I really cannot say yet. Sorry," Davidson replied, adding that he knew but didn't feel prepared to say so.

During his testimony, Davidson said McDougal had told him about a "romantic affair" she'd had with Trump "some years prior." Asked on the stand whether the affair was sexual, Davidson replied, "That's what she expressed."

At the time of the conversation between Davidson and Dylan, McDougal had been "teetering between two different deals" for her story -- one with the National Enquirer, and another with ABC News, Davidson testified.

But only the National Enquirer could grant her what she really wanted: to not actually have her story become public.

Davidson testified that McDougal had wanted to "rejuvenate her career, to make money" -- but she also wanted "to avoid telling her story" and become the "Scarlet Letter, the other woman."

Text messages in July and August 2016 showed how Howard and Davidson negotiated a price for McDougal's story.

"Get me a price on McDougal All in. Consulting gig perhaps as a fitness expert thrown into the mix," Howard texted on July 23, 2016.

"How about 1m now. And 75K per year for next 2 years as a fitness correspondent for AMI & ur related pubs," Davidson replied.

Howard pushed back on the high number. "I'll take it to them but thinking it's more hundreds than millions," he wrote.

"We are going to lay it on thick for her," Howard wrote in another text days later on July 28, 2016.

"Good. Throw in an ambassadorship for me. I am thinking Isle of [Man]," Davidson replied, which he testified Tuesday was "just a joke."

Ultimately, American Media Inc., the National Enquirer's publisher, paid McDougal $150,000 in order to stay silent about the alleged affair. They also published multiple articles under her byline.

Davidson testified that he believed the publisher would not publish McDougal's story for two reasons: First, "that they were trying to build Karen into a brand" and didn't want to compromise her reputation, and second, because of the effect it could have on Trump's campaign.

"The second was more of an unspoken understanding that there was a close affiliation between [publisher] David Pecker and Donald Trump, and that AMI would not run this story ... because it would tend to hurt Donald Trump," he said.

Previously, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified about McDougal's story, saying he'd thought the magazine should buy it because he believed it to be true and if it got out "it would have been very embarrassing to [Trump] and also to his campaign."

In a 2018 interview with CNN, McDougal said she agreed to the catch-and-kill deal with AMI because she thought it would be a "win-win" -- the affair would remain a secret, and McDougal would get a career boost.

“I’m an older model now," she said. "They wanted to make something a new start. You know, they promised me all these wonderful, beautiful things ... I get to work, and my story doesn’t have to come out.”

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