National News

Former Playboy Model Is Free to Discuss Alleged Trump Affair

Posted April 18, 2018 8:00 p.m. EDT

The tabloid news company American Media Inc. agreed to let a former Playboy model out of a contract that had kept her from talking freely about an alleged affair with Donald Trump.

The settlement agreement, reached Wednesday, ends a lawsuit brought by the model, Karen McDougal, and protects the president from being drawn into a legal case involving efforts to buy the silence of women who had stories to tell about him during the 2016 campaign.

He still faces another lawsuit from Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film actress known as Stormy Daniels. Clifford is suing to get out of a deal that Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, arranged in 2016 for her silence about an alleged affair. Trump’s representatives have denied both women’s stories.

In August 2016, AMI, which owns The National Enquirer, acquired the rights to McDougal’s story about Trump — which it never ran — in return for $150,000 and commitments to use its magazines to promote her current career as a fitness specialist.

Under the terms of Wednesday’s settlement, AMI has the right to up to $75,000 of any future profits from her story about the alleged affair. According to her lawyer, Peter K. Stris, McDougal can keep the $150,000 payment, and the publisher will retain the rights to photographs of her that it already has.

In a statement, AMI called the settlement an “amicable resolution” and said that under the new agreement it would devote an upcoming magazine cover and feature article to McDougal, and would run several of her fitness columns in its publications.

“It’s a total win,” Stris said in an interview. “We got everything we were fighting for — she got out of the contract, gets the life rights back and owes AMI nothing more.”

In a separate interview, McDougal expressed elation about the end of her “wild ride,” and said she currently had no plans to sell the rights to her story to a new buyer. “It’s one step at a time for me,” she said. “Today, I’m doing my victory dance.”

Her lawsuit said that AMI, whose chairman, David J. Pecker, is a friend of Trump’s, misled her into signing the contract. It also claimed that Cohen had inappropriately intervened in the deal. AMI had denied misleading her.

The deal and the extent of Cohen’s role in it are the subjects of a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation that is, in part, looking into his efforts to protect Trump’s presidential prospects in 2016.

AMI indicated earlier this month that it would fight McDougal, asking the Los Angeles Superior Court to dismiss her lawsuit.

But that was roughly a week before federal investigators obtained email communications, audio recordings and other documentation from Cohen during their raid of his office, home and hotel room. Those materials included information about AMI and the McDougal suit, people involved in the case said.

The suit also claimed that Cohen had been secretly involved in the talks between AMI and McDougal’s lawyer at the time, Keith M. Davidson — who emailed Cohen at the end of the negotiations. A spokesman for Davidson has said the lawyer “fulfilled his obligations and zealously advocated for Ms. McDougal.”

AMI also spoke with Cohen about McDougal, though it says it did so only as part of its reporting process.

Stris said that before reaching the settlement, he was prepared to answer AMI’s motion to dismiss McDougal’s case with a request for a limited version of pretrial discovery. The move, compelling both sides to share emails and other records, could have provided information that would not be available through the material the FBI seized from Cohen. An AMI lawyer, Cameron Stracher, said that he doubted the request would have succeeded, and that avoiding discovery was not a motivating factor in the settlement.

The agreement precludes any of that from happening, at least in McDougal’s civil case against AMI, though Stris said he expected federal investigators to eventually secure everything they needed to fully vet the process behind the deal. “I have tremendous confidence in the men and women of the Southern District of New York,” he said, referring to the federal prosecutors investigating Cohen.

Stris said he did not rule out taking legal action if more came to light about potentially inappropriate contact between Cohen and Davidson during the course of negotiating her deal. The settlement does not bar McDougal from claims against either of the men in the future. For now, McDougal said, “I need to relax and get my life back and de-stress.”

The initial deal prohibited McDougal from speaking about her alleged affair, but AMI amended the contract after the election to allow her to answer “legitimate press inquiries,” in response to her complaints that the agreement was overly restrictive. In recent months, she has spoken to The New Yorker and Anderson Cooper of CNN.

Separate from the federal investigation into Cohen, AMI is facing a complaint at the Federal Election Commission that its $150,000 payment to McDougal was an illegal campaign expenditure. The publisher has denied this and says it acts solely as a news organization with a First Amendment right to run stories — or not run them — as it chooses.