During the presidential campaign, National Enquirer executives sent digital copies of the tabloid's articles and cover images related to Donald Trump and his political opponents to Trump's attorney Michael Cohen in advance of publication, according to three people with knowledge of the matter — an unusual practice that speaks to the close relationship between Trump and David Pecker, chief executive of American Media Inc., the Enquirer's parent company.
Although the company strongly denies ever sharing such material before publication, these three individuals say the sharing of material continued after Trump took office.
"Since Trump's become president and even before, [Pecker] openly just has been willing to turn the magazine and the cover over to the Trump machine," said one of the people with knowledge of the practice.
During the campaign, "if it was a story specifically about Trump, then it was sent over to Michael, and as long as there were no objections from him, the story could be published," this person added.
The Enquirer's alleged sharing of material pre-publication with Trump's attorney during the campaign highlights the support the tabloid news outlet offered Trump as he ran for president. It also intersects with a subject that federal prosecutors have been investigating since earlier this year: Cohen's efforts to quash negative stories about Trump during the campaign. As part of that, prosecutors are also looking into whether Cohen broke campaign finance laws, according to people familiar with the investigation.
Earlier this week, federal prosecutors subpoenaed American Media Inc. as part of their investigation into Cohen, according to the Wall Street Journal. A Justice Department official said Pecker did not fall under the regulation that governs when and how prosecutors can obtain records of members of the news media.
"American Media Inc. has, and will continue to, comply with any and all requests that do not jeopardize or violate its protected sources or materials pursuant to our first amendment rights," AMI spokesman Jon Hammond said.
Pecker declined to be interviewed for this story. Dylan Howard, the company's chief content officer, called it "completely false" that Trump and Cohen "were told in advance, and copies were shared in advance, and that they had some sort of sway over who the magazine attacked on any given week."
"We made a very public endorsement of Trump," he continued. "So it wouldn't be out of the ordinary for me to commission stories on his opponents given that we had endorsed Donald Trump. And that's what I did," Howard said.
Cohen did not return calls or text-messaged requests for comment.
Once Enquirer editors sent a story or cover image, sometimes a request for changes came back, according to two of the people with knowledge of the relationship. Stories about Trump were positive in nature, and changes related to the stories were not dramatic, according to one person with knowledge of the matter, who said most of the changes in stories sent to Cohen resulted in more flattering cover photos or changes to cover headlines.