He lamented that the issue had become a national news story, which he attributed to the publicity surrounding the federal investigations of Mr. Cohen. He said that the lawyer “reached out to me after being contacted by this woman’s attorney, Keith Davidson,” and that he hired Mr. Cohen after Mr. Cohen “informed me about his prior relationship with Mr. Davidson.”
In fact, the contract used in Mr. Broidy’s case included the same aliases that were used in the 2016 contract relating to Mr. Trump and Ms. Clifford — David Dennison and Peggy Peterson — according to a person familiar with it.
A spokesman for Mr. Davidson said he could not confirm or deny the details of the agreement. In a statement, Mr. Davidson said, “I’ve always acted in my client’s best interest, and appropriately in all matters.”
Mr. Cohen declined to comment.
Mr. Davidson’s relationship with Mr. Cohen forms part of the basis for a lawsuit brought by Ms. McDougal, who is seeking to get out of her contract with A.M.I., the owner of The National Enquirer, which never ran her story after buying it in August 2016.
In the lawsuit, she contends that Mr. Cohen played a secret role in the negotiations for that deal, which allegedly involved only herself and the tabloid media company. The Times reported earlier this year that Mr. Cohen and Mr. Davidson discussed the deal the day before Ms. McDougal signed the contract.
Mr. Broidy was a major fund-raiser for George W. Bush, but he is particularly connected in Mr. Trump’s orbit.
Continue reading the main story
He got his start in business as an accountant and then as an investment manager for Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell. He was a vice chairman of Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee, has met frequently with top White House officials and had an Oval Office meeting with the president in October, according to documents obtained by The Times.
During the wide-ranging October meeting, Mr. Broidy raised numerous topics high on the agenda of the United Arab Emirates, a country that has given his security company a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He pitched the president on a paramilitary force his company was developing for the U.A.E. and urged Mr. Trump to fire Rex W. Tillerson, then the secretary of state, whom the U.A.E. believed was insufficiently tough on its rival Qatar.
The documents show that Mr. Broidy has worked closely with George Nader, an adviser to the U.A.E. and a witness in the special counsel’s investigation, to help steer Trump administration policy on numerous issues in the Middle East. Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, is examining Mr. Nader’s possible role in funneling Emirati money to finance Mr. Trump’s political efforts. There is no indication that Mr. Mueller’s team is looking into Mr. Broidy.
In 2009, Mr. Broidy pleaded guilty to charges that he made nearly $1 million worth of illegal gifts to New York State officials in order to win an investment of $250 million from the state’s public pension fund. Among the gifts were trips to Israel and Italy, payouts to officials’ relatives and girlfriends and an investment in one relative’s production of a low-budget movie called “Chooch.”
It was an opportune moment for Mr. Pecker to showcase his White House connections. He was considering expanding his media and events businesses into Saudi Arabia and also was hunting for moneyed partners in acquisitions.
The intersection of the tabloid publisher with the Saudis, enhanced by the White House visit, is a previously untold chapter in the long, symbiotic relationship between the president and Mr. Pecker, which was forged in the 1990s. At the time, Mr. Trump was celebrating a real estate comeback after his casino bankruptcies and was both the subject and the source of much gossip in New York.
Mr. Pecker, who had known Mr. Grine only for a few months, invited him to the dinner to thank him for advice he had provided about investing in the Middle East, according to someone who knew of the invitation.
Word soon traveled back to Saudi Arabia about the dinner: It signaled Mr. Pecker’s powerful status in Washington.
Two months later, he was in Saudi Arabia, meeting with Mr. Grine and the crown prince about business opportunities there, according to A.M.I.
And by January, Mr. Pecker was confident enough about his growing rapport with Saudi investors that he sought their help bankrolling a possible acquisition of Time magazine, which he had long coveted, according to two people with direct knowledge of the talks. A.M.I. disputed that.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The people briefed on the interactions between A.M.I. and Saudi Arabia requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The outcome of Mr. Pecker’s efforts to do business with the Saudis remains unclear. But he is still working to cultivate ties. This week, he and Mr. Grine both attended events in New York featuring Prince Mohammed, who is on a tour across the United States.
Continue reading the main story
Ahead of that visit, A.M.I. published a 97-page glossy magazine that is essentially a promotional brochure for Saudi Arabia and the crown prince. It makes no mention of anything troubling, like the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, human rights concerns or the crown prince’s arrest last fall of many extended royals, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an influential client of Mr. Grine’s.
The magazine — which refers to Saudi Arabia throughout as “the Magic Kingdom” — includes an interview with Mr. Grine, accompanied by a photo of him posing with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office, taken during his visit with Mr. Pecker. It talks up the relationship between Mr. Trump and the Saudis, noting that Mr. Trump “endorsed the crown prince’s high profile anticorruption” crackdown.
A.M.I. has said it produced the magazine to “capitalize” on interest in the crown prince, who is next in line to the throne, and has been careful to say it received no input or guidance from Saudi officials. That carries important legal implications: Foreign direction or control of such a purely promotional publication would require disclosure to the Justice Department. The Saudi government did not respond to a request for comment.
The magazine — 200,000 copies distributed in Walmart and other outlets, with a cover price of $13.99 and no advertising — provided a unique welcome mat for the prince, whose visit comes as the Trump administration is trying to establish tighter ties with the kingdom. Both countries are touting cross-border investment opportunities, including a pledge by the Saudi government to put $20 billion into a fund that will invest in American infrastructure projects. The kingdom is also nearing a deal to buy American-made missiles and other military equipment.
Mr. Grine, a 30-year-old French citizen, has helped broker deals between Saudi investors and companies in France, Senegal and the United States. He and Mr. Pecker were introduced last spring by Ari Emanuel, chief executive of Endeavor, the huge talent, entertainment and sports company based in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Mr. Grine and Mr. Pecker soon had a series of discussions about the investment landscape in Saudi Arabia, according to a person briefed on the talks. Mr. Pecker extended the White House dinner invitation shortly afterward.
A.M.I. would not say who else was among the “select group of friends” Mr. Pecker took to the White House at the president’s invitation. During the evening, the Middle East and the recent French elections came up. In a statement, A.M.I. said, “The entire conversation was social, with the exception of a couple very brief mentions of current events.”
Continue reading the main story
Mr. Pecker is best known for The Enquirer, but his media empire is wide-ranging. A.M.I.’s titles include Men’s Journal, Hers, Flex and Muscle & Fitness.
The publisher has used the company at times to protect close friends, including Mr. Trump. Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, recently filed a lawsuit alleging that Mr. Trump’s lawyer was secretly involved when A.M.I. tried to bury her story about an affair with Mr. Trump. A.M.I. bought the rights to her story during the presidential campaign for $150,000 but never published it. In the world of gossip media, such a maneuver is known as a “catch and kill” operation.
Mr. Trump’s lawyer Michael D. Cohen and A.M.I. have denied the allegations. Mr. Trump’s representatives say the affair never happened.
During the campaign, The Enquirer also published scathing articles about Mr. Trump’s rivals, as well as perceived antagonists like the television host Megyn Kelly. In promoting Mr. Trump, The Enquirer endorsed a candidate for the first time in its history.
Since he entered the White House, A.M.I. titles have run articles alleging a “deep state” plot to undermine Mr. Trump. As scandals engulfed the White House, a recent Enquirer cover blared: “Donald & Melania Fight Back! Exposing the Lies, Leaks and Intimidation. How They’ll Crush Their Enemies!”
The support appears mutual. Mr. Trump at times has praised Mr. Pecker’s stewardship of A.M.I. He once endorsed Mr. Pecker to run Time magazine, whose cover, Mr. Trump has incorrectly asserted, has featured him more than anyone else.
“David Pecker would be a brilliant choice as CEO of TIME Magazine — nobody could bring it back like David!” Mr. Trump wrote in a Tweet in 2013.
A.M.I. has struggled financially. It went through a series of restructurings in the last decade, including a bankruptcy in 2010 in which the company reported up to $1 billion in debts, before being acquired four years ago by two private equity funds.
The company said in a statement that it was “in an incredibly stable financial position.”
Mr. Pecker has continued to hunt for new acquisitions. Last year, he bought Us Weekly from Wenner Media. But money remained scarce, according to A.M.I.’s financial advisers. When Mr. Pecker’s friend Harvey Weinstein suggested last fall that they team up to purchase Rolling Stone, Mr. Pecker expressed little interest. “I can not contribute any cash,” he wrote in an email obtained by The New York Times.
Continue reading the main story
In that same Sept. 28 exchange, Mr. Pecker wrote Mr. Weinstein: “I am in Saudi Arabia on business. Can’t call from here.”
In a statement to The Times, A.M.I.’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard, said, “Any media executive worth his or her salt must look at any acquisition opportunity in today’s media climate.”
During the visit to Saudi Arabia, Mr. Grine arranged for himself and Mr. Pecker to meet with Prince Mohammed, who is the chairman of the kingdom’s deep-pocketed Public Investment Fund. At the meeting, Mr. Pecker described his vision for expanding his events business, which includes the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition, into Saudi Arabia.
“The lawsuit filed today aims to restore her right to her own voice,” he said, adding, “We intend to invalidate the so-called contract that American Media Inc. imposed on Karen so she can move forward with the private life she deserves.”
Ms. McDougal filed her suit just days before Ms. Clifford was to appear on “60 Minutes” to discuss her relationship with Mr. Trump and the efforts Mr. Cohen undertook on his client’s behalf to pay for her silence.
Mr. Trump joined a legal effort last week seeking some $20 million in penalties tied to Ms. Clifford’s agreement.
The court dispute has drawn public attention to an issue that was previously sidelined. And both women’s suits could provide more fodder for federal complaints from the watchdog group Common Cause that the payoffs were, effectively, illegal campaign contributions.
Ms. Clifford and Ms. McDougal tell strikingly similar stories about their experiences with Mr. Trump, which included alleged trysts at the same Lake Tahoe golf tournament in 2006, dates at the same Beverly Hills hotel and promises of apartments as gifts. Their stories first surfaced in the The Wall Street Journal four days before the election, but got little traction in the swirl of news that followed Mr. Trump’s victory. The women even shared the same Los Angeles lawyer, Keith Davidson, who has long worked for clients who sell their stories to the tabloids.
Ms. McDougal negotiated with the country’s leading tabloid news provider, A.M.I., which is known to buy and bury stories that might damage friends and allies of its chief executive, David J. Pecker — a practice known as “catch and kill.”
Ms. McDougal’s legal complaint alleges that she did not know about the practice, or about Mr. Pecker’s friendship with Mr. Trump, when she began talking to company representatives in spring 2016, shortly after Mr. Trump locked up the Republican nomination.
Continue reading the main story
A.M.I. has previously acknowledged that Mr. Trump had been friends with Mr. Pecker, but said that he had never tried to influence coverage at the company’s publications.
Ms. McDougal has said that she was ambivalent about selling her story on the tabloid news market, but felt that her hand was forced after a hint of the alleged affair appeared in May 2016 on social media. Convinced something more would come out, she was determined to tell her story on her terms, her suit says.
A mutual friend connected her to Mr. Davidson, who, she said, told her the story could be worth millions. He arranged an interview with Dylan Howard, A.M.I.’s chief content officer, in Los Angeles. Mr. Davidson told her before the interview that A.M.I. would put $500,000 in an escrow account for her, and that “a seven-figure publishing contract awaited her,” the complaint reads.
Mr. Howard spent several hours pressing Ms. McDougal on the details of her story. But several days later, the media company declined to buy it, the complaint reads, and “Mr. Davidson revealed that, in fact, there was no money in escrow.”
A spokesman for Mr. Davidson said on Tuesday that the lawyer “fulfilled his obligations and zealously advocated for Ms. McDougal to accomplish her stated goals at that time,” but that commenting further would “violate attorney-client privilege.”
A.M.I. told The Times last month that it decided not to print Ms. McDougal’s story because it could not verify important details, though it acknowledged discussing her allegations with Mr. Cohen, the president’s lawyer, saying it did so as part of its reporting process.
The tabloid company showed renewed interest in the story in summer 2016, when Ms. McDougal began talks with ABC News. This time, A.M.I. offered a different deal.
Mr. Davidson informed her that A.M.I. would buy her story but not publish it because of Mr. Pecker’s relationship with Mr. Trump, the suit says. The payment would be $150,000, with Mr. Davidson and others involved on her behalf taking 45 percent. More alluring to Ms. McDougal, who is now a fitness specialist, was that the media company would feature her on its covers and in regular health and fitness columns, the complaint says.
Continue reading the main story
As A.M.I. and Mr. Davidson pushed her to sign the deal on Aug. 5, Ms. McDougal expressed misgivings. But, her suit says, Mr. Davidson and Mr. Howard argued in an urgent Skype call that the deal to promote her would “kick start and revitalize” her career, given that she was “old now.” She was 45.
In all, they said, the contract would obligate A.M.I. to run more than 100 columns or articles and at least two covers featuring her. When she asked Mr. Davidson what she should do if her story leaked, he responded in an email, “IF YOU DENY YOU ARE SAFE,” and urged her to sign as soon as possible, according to the court documents.
The Times reported last month that Mr. Davidson sent Mr. Cohen an email on Aug. 5, 2016, asking him to call. Mr. Davidson then told Mr. Cohen over the phone that the deal had been completed, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
The timeline provided in the lawsuit shows that Mr. Davidson’s email came as he and A.M.I. were still hashing out the terms of the deal, which Ms. McDougal did not sign until the following day, Aug. 6. Mr. Cohen told The Times last month that he did not recall the communications.
After signing the contract, Ms. McDougal grew frustrated when she did not hear about columns or cover shoots for several weeks. She later figured out why. Though the agreement explicitly mentioned “a monthly column” on aging and fitness for OK! and Star, and “four posts each month” on Radar Online, it only gave A.M.I. “the right” to print them. It was not an obligation.
“She was tricked into signing it while being misled as to its contents (including by her own lawyer, on whose advice she was entitled to rely),” the lawsuit reads. So far, A.M.I. has run one cover and roughly two dozen columns or posts featuring her. The company later amended her contract to let her respond to “legitimate press inquiries” about Mr. Trump.
Mr. Stris contends that his client was misled and that the contract was executed under fraudulent circumstances, giving her the right to sue in court rather than proceed in arbitration.