Federal prosecutors have reportedly granted immunity to the executive in charge of the National Enquirer amid an investigation into hush-money payments made on behalf of US President Donald Trump.
Vanity Fair and The Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, were first to report the development involving David Pecker, chief executive of the tabloid’s publisher American Media and a friend of the president.
It is claimed court papers connected to the case against the president’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen say Mr Pecker offered to help Mr Trump squash negative stories during the 2016 election campaign.
On Tuesday, Cohen admitted campaign finance violations, bank fraud and tax evasion.
Mr Pecker “offered to help deal with negative stories about (Trump’s) relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided”, the court papers are reported to say.
The Journal said Mr Pecker shared details with prosecutors about payments Cohen says Mr Trump directed in the weeks and months before the presidential election to buy the silence of two women alleging affairs with him. They were former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels.
While Mr Trump denies the affairs, his account of his knowledge of the payments has shifted.
In April, he denied he knew anything about the Daniels payment. He told Fox News in an interview aired on Thursday that he knew about payments “later on”.
In July, Cohen released an audio tape in which he and Mr Trump apparently discussed plans to buy Ms McDougal’s story from the Enquirer. Such a purchase was necessary, they suggested, to prevent Mr Trump from having to permanently rely on a tight relationship with the tabloid.
American Media’s chief content officer Dylan Howard is also reported to have been granted immunity.