What I Saw Working at The National Enquirer During Donald Trump’s Rise

On Tuesday, April 4, 2023, I was outside Manhattan criminal court. It was a sunny spring day, and the Secret Service and the Police Department had blocked off the streets with barricades. The sidewalks were clogged with news crews from around the world. Supporters of Donald Trump roamed a pen that was set up to house them. Eventually, the former president was rushed out of the courthouse after being charged by Alvin Bragg, the district attorney of Manhattan, with 34 counts of falsifying business records. His convoy departed to cheers from fans.

Listen to this article, read by David Linski

Open this article in the New York Times Audio app on iOS.

I pulled up the indictment and the statement of facts on my iPhone. At the center of the case is the accusation that Trump took part in a scheme to turn The National Enquirer and its sister publications into an arm of his 2016 presidential campaign. The documents detailed three “hush money” payments made to a series of individuals to guarantee their silence about potentially damaging stories in the months before the election. Because this was done with the goal of helping his election chances, the case implied, these payments amounted to a form of illegal, undisclosed campaign spending. And, Bragg argued, because Trump created paperwork to make the payments seem like regular legal expenses, that amounted to a criminal effort at a coverup. Trump has denied the charges against him.

The documents rattled off a number of seedy stories that would have been right at home in a venerable supermarket tabloid, had they actually been published. The subjects were anonymized but recognizable to anyone who had followed the story of Trump’s entanglement with The Enquirer. His affair with the porn star Stormy Daniels, of course, was the heart of it. There was also Karen McDougal, the Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1998, whose affair with Trump was similarly made to disappear, the payments for the rights to her story made to look like fees for writing a fitness column and appearing on magazine covers. (Trump has denied involvement with both women.) There were others that were lesser known, too, like Dino Sajudin, a former Trump World Tower doorman who claimed that Trump had a love child with one of the building’s employees; the story was never published, and Sajudin was paid $30,000 to keep quiet about it.

For me, reading the indictment was like stepping through the looking glass, because it described a three-year period in my own professional life, one that I have come to deeply regret. Dino the Doorman? During my time at American Media Inc. (A.M.I.), The Enquirer’s parent company, I was one of the editors pushing our reporters to confirm that story. McDougal’s fitness columns were published only after I instructed a colleague to work with the model to put them together. These were all pretty normal things to do during my time there, a life-changing detour in my career, which happened to coincide with a bizarre period at A.M.I., when it was allegedly enlisted — in some ways that I saw and in others that I didn’t — into the service of helping Trump become president. Now, as a former president faces a criminal trial for the first time in American history, I’m forced to grapple with what really happened at The Enquirer in those years — and whether and how I can ever set things right.

In a sense, it was Philip Seymour Hoffman who got me the job. In February 2014, while I was working at The New York Daily News, an editor there told me that Hoffman had been found dead in his West Village apartment. He asked for my help on the story. Our crime reporters tracked down the name of the person who found the body, David Bar Katz, a close friend of Hoffman’s and a playwright, but all our attempts to reach him had not borne fruit.

Back to top button