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Further questioning for ex-tabloid head at Trump trial

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker will answer more questions about his efforts to suppress damaging information about Donald Trump during the 2016 election, as the former president’s criminal hush-money trial resumes.

Mr Pecker, 72, faces more questioning from Mr Trump’s lawyers, who have sought to illustrate that the tabloid’s practice of burying unflattering stories about famous people was well established before Trump ran for president.

Mr Pecker previously testified that he worked as Mr Trump’s “eyes and ears” to suppress stories which could have hurt the businessman-turned-politician’s presidential bid at a time when he was facing multiple accusations of sexual misbehaviour.

Mr Pecker said his tabloid paid to “catch and kill” two of those stories and alerted Mr Trump that adult film actor Stormy Daniels was also looking to sell her story of a sexual encounter with Mr Trump.

New York prosecutors have charged Mr Trump with falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to Ms Daniels.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies the encounter took place.

Yesterday, Mr Trump’s lawyers sought to illustrate to the jury that Mr Pecker’s checkbook journalism was not confined to Mr Trump.

Under questioning, Mr Pecker said it was normal for celebrities and politicians to curry favour with the Enquirer to get good publicity and that he sought to kill negative stories about other famous figures, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods.

He said the Enquirer paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain stories from women who came forward during Mr Schwarzenegger’s 2003 run for California governor to say they had affairs with him.

Mr Pecker said the first time he gave Mr Trump a heads up about a negative story was in 1998 in relation to Marla Maples, his wife at the time.

Mr Pecker said he still considered Mr Trump a friend, even though the two have not spoken since 2019.

Prosecutors say Mr Pecker’s arrangement with Mr Trump corrupted the 2016 election. He agreed to cooperate to avoid criminal charges.

Mr Trump is the first former president to face criminal charges. The trial, which is expected to run through May, could be the only one of his four criminal prosecutions to be completed before his 5 November election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

One of those cases, which charges Mr Trump with trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Mr Biden, has been delayed for months by the US Supreme Court as it considers Mr Trump’s argument that presidents should be immune for actions they take while in office.

In oral arguments yesterday, justices on the conservative-majority court signaled support that Mr Trump should have some level of protection from criminal charges.

Justice Juan Merchan, who is hearing the hush money case, has yet to rule on a request by prosecutors to punish Mr Trump for allegedly violating a gag order that bars him from publicly criticising witnesses, some court officials and their relatives.

Judge Merchan said he would hold a hearing next Thursday to examine what prosecutors say are further gag order violations.

Mr Trump could be fined $1,000 for each violation or jailed, though prosecutors say they are not seeking imprisonment at this point.

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