Eight months before the company that owns the National Enquirer paid $ 150,000 to a former Playboy Playmate who claimed to have had an affair with Donald Trump, the parent of the tabloid made a $ 30,000 payment to a lesser-known individual: a former goalkeeper in one of real New York City real estate moguls.
As he did with the former playmate, the Enquirer signed the ex-goalkeeper with a contract that prevented him from becoming a public with a juicy story that could damage Trump’s campaign.
The payment to the former playmate, Karen McDougal, remained a secret until the Wall Street Journal published a story about it a few days before election day. Since then, the curiosity about that deal has generated intense media coverage and, this week, has helped the FBI raid the hotel room and the offices of Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
The history of the former goalkeeper, Dino Sajudin, has not been told until now.
The Associated Press confirmed the details of the Enquirer’s payment through a review of a confidential contract and interviews with dozens of current and former employees of the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc. Sajudin earned $ 30,000 in exchange for subscription of the rights “in perpetuity,” to a voice he had heard about Trump’s sex life – that the president had generated an illegitimate child with an employee at the Trump World Tower, a skyscraper he owns near the United Nations. The contract subjected Sajudin to a $ 1 million fine if he disclosed to anyone the entry or terms of the agreement.
Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer, recognized the PA that he had discussed the story of Sajudin with the magazine when the tabloid was working on it. He said he was acting as a spokesman for Trump when he did and denied he knew anything in advance about paying the Enquirer to the former goalkeeper.
The parallel between the former playmate and former goalkeeper’s relationship with the Enquirer raises new questions about the roles that Enquirer and Cohen may have played in protecting Trump’s image during the presidential elections. Prosecutors are probing whether Cohen broke the banking or campaign laws in connection with AMI’s payment to McDougal and a $ 130,000 payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels Cohen claimed to have paid out of his own pocket.
Federal investigators sought communications between Cohen, the CEO of American Media, and the Inquisitor’s editor-in-chief, according to the New York Times.
Cohen’s lawyer called the raids “inappropriate and unnecessary”. American Media did not say whether the federal authorities sought information from it, but said this week that it would “comply with all requests that did not jeopardize or violate its protected sources” or materials based on our First Amendment rights. “The White House has not answered questions to get comments.
On Wednesday, a sister publication by Enquirer, RadarOnline, published details of the payment and the rumor that Sajudin was selling. The website wrote that the Enquirer spent four weeks reporting the story, but eventually decided it was not true. The company released Sajudin from its contract only after the 2016 elections, among the Journal’s requests for payment. The site noted that the AP was in the middle of a group of publications that were investigating the suggestion of the former goalkeeper.
During the AP’s reporting, AMI threatened legal action against journalists’ efforts to interview current and former employees and hired New York law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, who challenged the accuracy of the AP’s reports.
Asked about the payment last summer, Dylan Howard, the top editor of the Enquirer and an executive of the AMI, said he had made the payment to guarantee the exclusive collaboration of the former goalkeeper Trump because the suggestion, if it were true, would have sold “hundreds of thousands” of magazines. In the end, he said that the information “has no credibility”, so he has thrown the story on those merits.
“Unfortunately … Dino Sajudin is a fish that swam away,” Howard told RadarOnline on Wednesday.
But four long-time Enquirer staff members who were familiar with the episode challenged Howard’s version of events. They said they were ordered by the best editors to stop pursuing the story before completing promising discussions.
They said the publication did not pursue Enquirer’s standard reporting practices, such as comprehensive surveys or outrageous tactics designed to demonstrate authorship. In 2008, the Enquirer helped to partly reduce presidential hope John Edwards by digging through a dumpster and retrieving material to make a DNA test that indicated he had raised a child with a lover, according to a former staff member.
The woman at the center of the rumors about Trump denied the PA last August that she had an affair with Trump, saying that she had no idea that the Enquirer had paid Sajudin and pursued her advice.
The AP was not able to determine if the voice is true and is not naming the woman.
“This is all false,” he said. “I think they lost their money.”
Enquirer staff members, all with years of experience in negotiating contracts of origin, stated that the abrupt termination of alerts combined with a binding seven-digit penalty to prevent the tipster from talking to someone led them to conclude that it was a so-called “catch and kill” – a scandalistic practice in which a publication pays for a story that will never be published, either as a favor to the celebrity subject of the board or as a lever on that person.
A former Enquirer reporter, who was not involved in Sajudin’s reporting effort, expressed skepticism that the company would pay the tip and would not publish.
“AMI does not go around cutting checks for $ 30,000 and therefore not using information,” said Jerry George, a journalist and editor-in-chief for nearly thirty years at the AMI before his dismissal in 2013.
The company stated that the publisher of AMI, David Pecker, a staunch supporter of Trump, had not coordinated coverage with Trump members or taken over from Trump. He recognized that he had discussed the former head of the porter with Trump’s representatives, whom he described as “standard operating procedure in stories of this nature”.
Enquirer staff members, like many of the dozens of other current and former AMI employees interviewed by the PA last year, spoke on condition of being anonymous. Everyone said that the AMI required them to sign non-disclosure agreements, preventing them from discussing internal editorial policy and decision-making.
Although sometimes rejected by mainstream publications, the Inquisitor’s story of breaking legitimate scoops on politicians’ personal lives – including his one-month coverage with the Pulitzer Prize on the Edwards presidential candidate’s case – is a point of pride in his drafting.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Enquirer published a series of accusations against Trump’s rivals, such as stories claiming that Democratic rival Hillary Clinton was a bisexual “secret sex maniac” and was kept alive by only one ” narcotic cocktail “.
Stories that attack Trump’s rivals or that promote Trump’s campaign have often circumvented the normal process of checking the facts of the newspaper, according to two people familiar with the copy of the campaign era.
The tabloid obtained its first recognition by officially supporting Trump for the White House. With just over a week before election day, Howard, the lead editor, appeared on Alex Jones’s InfoWars program over the phone, telling listeners that the choice in the polls was between “Clinton’s criminal family” or someone who “would break down the confines of the factory”. Howard said the newspaper coverage was bipartisan, citing negative stories published on Ben Carson during the Republican presidential primaries.
In a statement last summer, Howard stated that the company does not take editorial direction “from anyone who is not AMI” and claimed that Trump was never a source of Enquirer. The company said that readers’ surveys dictate its coverage and that many of its customers are Trump supporters.
The company said it paid McDougal, the former Playboy Playmate, to be a columnist for a fitness magazine published by AMI, not to remain silent. Since then McDougal has said he regretted signing the non-disclosure agreement and is currently suing for it.
Pecker denied burying negative stories about Trump, but he acknowledged the New Yorker last summer that McDougal’s contract had effectively silenced it.
“Once he’s part of the company, then outside it can not be the truth about Trump and American Media,” Pecker said.
In the tabloid, information on the purchase of the world is not rare and the Enquirer regularly pays for the sources. As a general practice, however, sources agree to be paid for their suggestions only at the time of publication.
George, a longtime former reporter and editor, said the $ 1 million penalty in Sajudin’s deal was wider than anything he had seen in his Enquirer career.
“If your intent is to get a story from the source, there’s no positive margin to pay in advance,” said George, who has sometimes managed catch-and-kill contracts related to other celebrities. Paying in advance was not the usual practice of the Enquirer because it would have been costly and endangered the source’s incentive to cooperate, he said.
After initially calling the Enquirer flagship line, Sajudin signed a contract with the Enquirer, agreeing to be an anonymous source and paid for publication. The Enquirer sent journalists to continue the story in both New York and California. The tabloid also sent a polygraph expert to administer a lie detection test in Sajudin in a hotel near his home in Pennsylvania.
Sajudin passed the polygraph, which he tested as he learned of the voice. A week later, Sajudin signed a modified agreement, paying him $ 30,000 immediately and subjecting him to a $ 1 million penalty if he went around the information.
The researcher immediately stopped reporting, said the former staff.
Cohen, last year, characterized the debtor’s payment to Sajudin as money wasted on an unfounded story.
For his part, Sajudin confirmed that he had been paid to be the anonymous source of the tabloid, but insisted that he would sue the Enquirer if his name appeared in print. Pressed for further details on his advice and experience with the newspaper, Sajudin said he would only speak in exchange for a payment.
“If there is no money involved,” he said, “I will not get involved.”