The owner of the National Enquirer paid US$30,000 (S$39,363) in late 2015 to a one-time Trump Tower doorman who was offering an embarrassing story about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, but the tabloid never published it, according to a person familiar with the payment.
A spokesman for the Trump Organisation on Thursday (April 12) denied the story that doorman Dino Sajudin told the tabloid: that Mr Trump fathered a child out of wedlock in the late 1980s and that top executives of the Trump Organisation, including long-time security chief Matt Calamari, knew about it.
“Mr Sajudin’s claims are completely false,” the Trump Organisation said in a statement.
A spokesman added that Mr Calamari never made such a statement and accused Mr Sajudin of having a history of peddling false stories.
In an interview on Thursday with The Washington Post, Mr Sajudin dismissed claims that he had made anything up.
“You know, I took a polygraph test,” he said, adding that he believes his story was buried as part of a larger strategy by the tabloid to quash negative articles about Mr Trump.
“It seems like the writing is on the wall about that, it’s pretty clear,” Mr Sajudin said.
He said the story “had to come out”, and he referred further questions to his attorney.
Mr Sajudin’s contract with American Media Inc, the Enquirer’s parent company, was first reported by the New Yorker and the Associated Press.
The news about the payment he received comes as federal investigators in New York are examining efforts by Mr Trump’s personal attorney, Mr Michael Cohen, to tamp down negative stories about the real estate mogul as he ran for President.
One focus of the inquiry is Mr Cohen’s relationship with Mr David Pecker, AMI’s chief executive and chairman, according to people familiar with the investigators’ work.
Mr Pecker and Mr Cohen are long-time friends who strategised throughout the campaign about how to assist Mr Trump’s bid and counter salacious rumours that might surface about him, according to two people with knowledge of their relationship.
An FBI raid executed on Monday on Mr Cohen’s office and residences sought all of the lawyer’s records of communications with AMI, Mr Pecker and National Enquirer executive Dylan Howard regarding two women who claimed to have had affairs with Mr Trump while he was married, according to three people familiar with the investigation.
One woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, reportedly received US$150,000 from AMI in 2016 for her story alleging a 10-month affair with Mr Trump.
The Enquirer did not publish the story.
In a statement about the Sajudin payment, AMI denied “that Donald Trump or Michael Cohen had anything to do with its decision not to pursue a story about a ‘love child’ that it determined was not credible”.
“The suggestion that David Pecker has ever used company funds to ‘shut down’ this or any investigation is not true,” the company said.
“In addition, AMI and Mr Pecker emphatically deny any suggestion that there might have been any ‘partnership’ created which might influence any business ties in regard to AMI. These claims are reckless, unsubstantiated, and false.”
It is unclear whether federal investigators are scrutinising the AMI payment to Mr Sajudin.
A person familiar with the contract with the former doorman said that the company agreed to pay Mr Sajudin US$30,000 for his story in late 2015 and that he passed a lie detector test when making his claims.
Under his deal, he gave the Enquirer exclusive rights to the story.
Such a story would have been a “huge scoop” for the tabloid, which broke a similar story about then-presidential candidate John Edwards in 2008, the person noted.
But at some point, the editors determined that Mr Sajudin’s story was not credible and decided not to publish it, the person said, adding that AMI released the doorman from his contract in late 2016.
The person was not aware of any information indicating that Mr Pecker shelved the story to help Mr Trump.
“When we realised we would be unable to publish, and other media outlets approached the source about his tale, we released Sajudin from the exclusivity clause that had accompanied his US$30,000 payment, freeing him to tell his story to whomever he wanted,” Mr Howard told RadarOnline.com, a sister publication of the Enquirer.
Mr Cohen told the Associated Press that he had discussed Mr Sajudin’s story with the Enquirer as a Trump spokesman when the tabloid was looking into the account, but he denied that he had been involved in the payment to the former doorman.
Mr Cohen and his attorney, Mr Stephen Ryan, did not respond to requests for comment.
The search warrant served on Mr Cohen sought all communications he had with Mr Trump or the Trump campaign about any “negative publicity” that might arise during the presidential campaign, according to a person familiar with investigators’ work.
It also sought all his communication about an embarrassing Access Hollywood tape that surfaced in October 2016, weeks before the election.
Federal prosecutors who are investigating Mr Cohen also have sought records relating to the AMI payment to Ms McDougal, whose story could have been damaging to Mr Trump’s campaign.
Ms McDougal, a health and fitness model and former Playboy centrefold, claims that she had a 10-month affair with Mr Trump in 2006 and 2007, meeting him dozens of times at various Trump properties and elsewhere.
She met AMI executives through Mr Keith Davidson, who was then her attorney, in the summer of 2016 and signed a contract with them that August.
The tabloid company gave her US$150,000 and an opportunity to publish fitness columns in AMI magazines.
In return, she gave up the rights to her “life story”, including accounts of her relationship with “any then-married man”, according to lawsuit she filed against AMI last month in Los Angeles Superior Court.
According to her suit, Ms McDougal said she understood that the company was buying her story not to publish it, but to suppress it.
She is suing to break the contract so she can speak freely, arguing that her story about Mr Trump is “core political speech entitled to the highest protection under the law”.
The lawsuit also alleges that AMI and Mr Davidson coordinated with Mr Cohen as they negotiated the contract to kill the story.
It cited as evidence a Feb 18 New York Times article detailing a phone call in which Mr Davidson told Mr Cohen that the deal was done.
That phone call took place on Aug 5, 2016, according to the Times.
Ms McDougal signed the contract the following day, according to a copy of the contract appended to her lawsuit.
AMI has asked the court to dismiss Ms McDougal’s complaint, arguing that the deal is protected under the First Amendment.