Prosecutors have reportedly granted David Pecker Immunity. He owns the company that published National Enquirer. Veuer’s Sam Berman has the full story.
The scoop Friday was that the National Enquirer supported President Donald Trump as a candidate in 2016, but his rivals already knew the paper’s front page shouted critical stories about them throughout the campaign.
Ben Carson was portrayed in a “bombshell investigation” of the Republican primaries in October 2015 as a “bungling surgeon,” based on a review of malpractice lawsuits against him. Carson has since joined Trump’s cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the paper “garbage” filled with “complete and utter lies” after a “tabloid smear” in March 2016 that he had five mistresses.
And Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton repeatedly made the front page of the supermarket tabloid before, during and after the campaign. The paper reported she had “six months to live!” in September 2015 and then that she was “corrupt! racist! criminal!” in November 2016. She remains alive and not in jail.
Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for Clinton’s campaign, said the National Enquirer was viewed as “another arm of the Trump campaign during 2016.”
“Just take a look at the magazine’s covers. They were a toxic brew of every crazy Hillary conspiracy theory out there combined with pro-Trump propaganda,” Palmieri told USA TODAY.
A safe of damaging stories?
The latest revelation Thursday was that David Pecker, CEO of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, was granted immunity by federal prosecutors for dealing with hush money paid to women associated with Trump before the election, according to The Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair magazine.
Pecker was long an ally of Trump, but has been accused of helping mute negative stories about him. The paper kept a safe containing documents about hush-money payments and damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Donald Trump leading up to 2016 presidential election, people familiar with the arrangement told The Associated Press on Friday.
AMI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from USA TODAY.
Going after Trump enemies
But rivals to Trump accused the paper of supporting him long before the financial allegations came to light.
In April 2016, the National Enquirer published a photograph purporting to be of Cruz’s father Rafael next to Lee Harvey Oswald three months before the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy, implying a potential connection to the shooting.
Cruz called the JFK accusation “just kooky” and said that it was not even his father depicted in the photograph.
He also strongly denied having mistresses.
“Let me be clear, this National Enquirer story is garbage,” Cruz told reporters in March 2016 in Wisconsin. “It is a tabloid smear, and it is a smear that has come from Donald Trump and his henchmen.”
Trump replied that he had nothing to do with the mistress story.
“Ted Cruz’s problem with the National Enquirer is his and his alone, and while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin’ Ted Cruz,” Trump said.
But Trump questioned the Oswald picture on Fox News in May 2016.
“His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being you know shot,” Trump said. “Nobody’s even bringing this up. They don’t even talk about that. That was reported and nobody talks about it.”
Chris Wilson, CEO of WPA Intelligence who worked on the Cruz campaign, said the estimated $5 billion in free media that Trump received helped propel his populist candidacy, but the National Enquirer provides a “minuscule fraction.” Wilson said Trump would have won the primary with or without the paper.
“There’s no doubt that David Pecker, as a long-term friend of Donald Trump’s, was covering 2016 in a way that was going to help his friend,” Wilson said. “But there is no evidence the outlandish stories about Rafael having assassinated JFK or Ted Cruz being some kind of secret lothario had much impact on the campaign.”
Then there was Hillary Clinton
The National Enquirer’s health complaints about Clinton ran the gamut from vision loss to cancer and blood clots. Then Trump would cite her lack of stamina as a reason for voters to reject her.
For her part, Clinton appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in August 2016 to demonstrate she was healthy, in part by opening a jar of pickles.
“On the one hand, it’s part of the wacky strategy. Just say all these crazy things and maybe you can get some people to believe you,” Clinton said. “On the other hand, it just absolutely makes no sense. I don’t go around questioning Donald Trump’s health.”
Palmieri said there was a time when a National Enquirer story could have hurt a candidate because they had enormous resources and would pay sources.
“But honestly I did not worry about them in ‘16 because they had exposed themselves as being so pro-Trump, they lost whatever credibility they may have had to hurt us,” Palmieri said.
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