"Um," Michael Cohen said on his tape with Donald Trump, "I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David."
Who is the friend? All signs point to "David" being David Pecker, the chairman of American Media Inc., the owner of the National Enquirer.
Trump and Pecker have a long and mutually beneficial history. Although American Media Inc. says the two men do not speak "regularly," they have a friendship that dates back decades.
American Media Inc. has been accused -- by former employees and others -- of buying and covering up stories that could have hurt Trump. This tactic, known as "catch and kill," has been highlighted in the case of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy playmate who alleged an affair with Trump. Pecker's company bought the rights to her story, but never published it.
On the Trump-Cohen tape from September 2016, which was broadcast by CNN on Tuesday night, Cohen seems to be bringing up the McDougal case, although he never says so explicitly.
"So what are we gonna pay--" Trump asks.
"Yes, um, and it's all the stuff," Cohen says. He repeats: "All the stuff, all the stuff because you never know where that company -- you never know where he's gonna be."
What if, Trump suggests, Pecker "gets hit by a truck?" Meaning, what if his friend is no longer in charge of the company that owns some of his secrets?
"Correct," Cohen says, "so I'm all over that."
To be clear, Trump didn't name Pecker, but it's been well established that Pecker was involved in discussions about potentially damaging Trump stories in the weeks before the presidential election.
Left unsaid on the tape is what "all the stuff" is. What else did American Media have in its possession, beyond the life rights to McDougal's story?
A spokesman for American Media Inc. has not responded to requests for comment about the tape. Cohen did not respond to a request for comment about what the "all the stuff" is.
Prosecutors may already know. American Media Inc. executives are caught up in the ongoing federal investigation of Cohen.
The Wall Street Journal reported in June that Pecker and the company's chief content officer, Dylan Howard, were subpoenaed earlier in the year. The Journal said prosecutors were seeking "records related to its $150,000 payment" to McDougal.
The company did not confirm the subpoena, but said "American Media Inc. has, and will continue to, comply with any and all requests that do not jeopardize or violate its protected sources or materials pursuant to our First Amendment rights."
The Wall Street Journal first wrote about the Enquirer's agreement with McDougal a few days before the election in 2016. At the time, the Enquirer claimed that "AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump." The money, the company said, is for two years' worth of her fitness columns and magazine covers.
More recently, The New York Times reported that the federal investigators examining Cohen "have come to believe" that American Media "at times acted more as a political supporter than as a news organization."
The Enquirer plays it both ways: Promoting Trump while attacking his opponents. There's nothing subtle about it.
Earlier this year Jerry George, a former senior editor at American Media, told CNN that Pecker had a "favor bank" of stories that were buried to benefit Trump.
George said "Pecker is all about money and, you know, the next big acquisition and who's going to fund it. I'm not saying he doesn't sincerely revere President Trump, but I guess it's sort of a favor bank where he can say to the president -- I have an arsenal of stories that I have kept out of print, so these scandals never saw the light of day."
To George's point about "money," The New York Times described Pecker using a meeting with Trump at the White House last summer to woo Saudi business. American Media Inc. later published a promotional magazine all about Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. AMI reportedly said it did not receive outside help on the publication. The State Department told the Daily Beast at the time that it was unaware of any involvement by the department and the White House did not address questions about its involvement with the magazine.
Pecker has avoided saying much about his relationship with Trump. But the two men have traveled in the same social circles for decades. They have promoted each other -- Trump once said "David would be a brilliant choice as CEO of TIME Magazine" -- and have socialized at Mar a Lago.
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