American Media Inc. and the National Enquirer shredded sensitive Donald Trump-related documents that had been held in a top-secret safe right before Trump was elected in 2016, according to fresh allegations made in a new book by journalist Ronan Farrow.
During the first week of November 2016, the book alleges, Dylan Howard, who was editor in chief of the National Enquirer at the time, ordered a staff member to “get everything out of the safe” and said, “We need to get a shredder down there.”
His order came the same day a reporter for The Wall Street Journal called the Enquirer to ask for comment on a story about how AMI, which owns the supermarket tabloid, had paid $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had had an affair with Trump, to keep her quiet right before the election. The Enquirer never published her story.
“The staffer opened the safe, removed a set of documents, and tried to wrest it shut,” Farrow writes. “Later, reporters would discuss the safe like it was the warehouse where they stored the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones, but it was small and cheap and old.”
The safe, which often got jammed, had sat for years in an office that belonged to the Enquirer’s then-longtime executive editor, Barry Levine.
Farrow also quotes an Enquirer employee as saying that later that day a trash disposal crew collected “a larger than customary volume of refuse.”
That June, according to Farrow, Howard had put together a full list of Trump-related “dirt” that was in AMI’s archives, some dating back decades. After Trump was elected, his fixer Michael Cohen asked for all of AMI’s materials about Trump.
“There was an internal debate: some were starting to realize that surrendering it all would create a legally problematic paper trail, and resisted,” Farrow writes in “Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators” which will be published Tuesday. “Nevertheless, Howard and senior staff ordered the reporting material that wasn’t already in the small safe exhumed from storage bins in Florida and sent to AMI headquarters.”
When the material came to the AMI headquarters, it was first put into the small safe. Then, as the scandal around the magazine’s close relationship with Trump deepened, it was placed into a bigger safe in the office of AMI’s head of human resources, Daniel Rotstein.
“It was only later, when one of the employees who had been skeptical started getting jumpy and went to check, that they found something amiss: the list of Trump dirt didn’t match up with the physical files,” Farrow writes. “Some of the material had gone missing.”
Howard told colleagues that none of the material was destroyed, but Farrow’s sources expressed skepticism.
“We are always at the edge of what’s legally permissible,” one senior AMI employee told Farrow. “It’s very exciting.”
Asked for comment, Howard attorney Paul Tweed said: “We have advised Mr. Howard to make no further comment at this stage, while all legal options and jurisdictions are being considered.”
The Daily Beast reported in early October that the Tweed law firm sent threatening letters to a number of U.K. booksellers as well as Farrow’s British publisher, saying there were “false and defamatory allegations” in his book.
An American Media spokesperson said, “Mr. Farrow’s narrative is driven by unsubstantiated allegations from questionable sources and while these stories may be dramatic, they are completely untrue.”
A spokesman for the Trump Organization didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Hachette, which is publishing a book by Levine about Trump and women, declined to comment. Rotstein, who no longer works at AMI, could not be reached for comment.
Trump had a decadeslong close relationship with AMI CEO David Pecker, and Pecker and the Enquirer protected Trump from his misdeeds through a tabloid practice called “catch and kill,” in which the Enquirer bought the rights to embarrassing stories involving Trump and then wouldn’t publish them.
Farrow quotes one former Enquirer journalist, Jerry George, who estimated Pecker “killed perhaps ten fully reported stories about Trump, and nixed many more potential leads during George’s twenty-eight years at the Enquirer.”
Late last year, AMI admitted its hush money payment to McDougal, which it said it had made to prevent her story from “influencing the election.” In an agreement with federal prosecutors that said AMI would not get charged for its role in the scheme, the company said it would cooperate with authorities.
The agreement showed that Pecker held a meeting with Cohen and at least one other member of the campaign in August 2015, during which Pecker “offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.” He also agreed to keep Cohen updated on any negative stories.
A month before the 2016 election, an agent for adult film actress Stormy Daniels told Howard she was threatening to speak publicly about her alleged affair with Trump. That led Pecker and Howard to tell Cohen about Daniels; he then negotiated a deal to pay her $130,000 in exchange for her silence. Cohen is serving a three-year jail sentence for campaign finance violations related to his role in the scheme.
AMI had previously denied engaging in such a practice, telling The Wall Street Journal in November 2016, “AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump.”
The National Enquirer, which is in the process of being sold to the CEO of Hudson News for $100 million, endorsed Trump in the 2016 campaign and wrote negative stories on his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, with covers bearing headlines like “‘Sociopath’ Hillary Clinton’s Secret Psych Files Exposed!” and “Hillary: Corrupt! Racist! Criminal!”