Karen McDougal: Trump escapes fine in Playboy model payment case

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Trump getting in a car in New York city
Trump getting in a car in New York city

A tabloid publisher accused of burying a story about an alleged ex-lover of Donald Trump in 2016 has agreed to pay a fine for violating US election laws.

Mr Trump will not be punished or the subject of further inquiry, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) ruled.

The FEC found that the money paid to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal during the presidential election amounted to an illegal campaign contribution.

The publisher of the National Enquirer will pay a fine of $187,500 (£132,000).

The former president has previously denied having an affair with Ms McDougal.

Ms McDougal has said she sold her story to the Enquirer for $150,000, in an agreement that banned her from talking publicly about the alleged 2006 affair with Mr Trump.

The FEC ruling states that the Enquirer's publisher, American Media Inc, "knowingly and wilfully" violated election laws by paying for the rights to Ms McDougal's story and never publishing it in a practice known as "catch and kill".

Mr Trump and American Media Inc, now known as A360Media after a merger, have not responded to requests for comment.

A360Media's chief executive David Pecker is a close friend of Mr Trump. The publisher had previously acknowledged in a deal with officials to avoid criminal prosecution that the payment was made to "suppress the woman's story" and "prevent it from influencing the election".

Documents relating to the case were released on Tuesday by Common Cause, a not-for-profit government watchdog group.

The organisation had filed a complaint to the FEC over three years ago related to the payment to Ms McDougal as well as another payment to pornographic actress Stormy Daniels.

According to federal officials, the payment to Ms McDougal was done in co-ordination with then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who later served time in jail for crimes including violations of election finance law.

Documents released by Common Cause stated that the six-member FEC commission - which is evenly split between Republican- and Democratic-aligned commissioners - did not have sufficient votes to pursue further investigation into Mr Trump.

Paul S Ryan, Common Cause's vice president of policy and litigation, called the ruling "a win for democracy", but said "the only one not to be held accountable" in the case was Mr Trump.

Last month, the FEC dropped its case into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Mr Cohen to pay off Ms Daniels.