Karen McDougal, Stormy Daniels, Dino Sajudin: The three people at centre of Trump 'hush money' probe

(from left to right) Donald Trump, lawyer Michael Cohen, porn star Stormy Daniels Credit: AP

On Tuesday, Donald Trump became the first former US president to appear in court as a criminal defendant.

The criminal charges stem from three instances in which Trump and his associates are accused of making 'hush money' payments during his 2016 campaign: to two women to suppress information about alleged extramarital affairs, and to a Trump Tower doorman claiming to have a story about a child he said Trump had out of wedlock.

Trump has been charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records. He surrendered on Tuesday in New York and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

ITV News looks at the three cases at the centre of the charges - and the allegation that these cases were buried by 'catch and kill' tabloid schemes.

Trump Tower Doorman

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, who outlined the charges, first listed the incident involving a former Trump Tower doorman who was paid $30,000 (£24,000) after he claimed he had information about a child that Trump had out of wedlock.

That doorman, Dino Sajudin, received the payment from the parent company of US tabloid the National Enquirer. The fee was in exchange for signing over the rights, “in perpetuity,” to a rumor that the president had fathered a child with an employee at Trump World Tower, a skyscraper he owns near the United Nations.

The contract between Mr Sajudin and the American Media Inc. would penalise Mr Sajudin for $1 million (£800,000) if he disclosed either the rumour or the terms of his agreement with the tabloid’s parent company. In 2017, the woman at the centre of the rumour denied that she had had an affair with Trump.

Journalists at the Enquirer said the abrupt end to reporting, combined with a binding, seven-figure penalty to stop the tipster from talking to anyone led them to conclude that this was a so-called “catch and kill” - a tabloid practice in which a publication pays for a story to never run, either as a favour to the celebrity subject of the tip or as leverage over that person.

Karen McDougal

The prosecutor also cited the case of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who received $150,000 (£121,000) from American Media after claiming she had a 10-month affair with Trump in the mid-2000s. The money was to gain the rights to Ms McDougal’s story but to never run it - another supposed "catch and kill". The National Enquirer’s parent company has acknowledged that the payments were done specifically to help Trump’s presidential campaign.

Mr Bragg said Trump “explicitly” directed lawyer Michael Cohen, then working for the Trump Organisation, to reimburse American Media in cash. Then, Mr Cohen indicated to Trump that the payment should be made instead by a shell company. The alleged relationship between Ms McDougal and the former president remained concealed until a Wall Street Journal report days before Election Day in 2016. Trump has denied her allegation.

Stormy Daniels

Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an extra-marital sexual encounter with Trump. Credit: AP

The third case involves the porn actor Stormy Daniels, who was paid $130,000 (£105,000) in exchange for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied the encounter.

Mr Bragg said that 12 days before the election on November 8, 2016, Mr Cohen had wired $130,000 (£104,000) to Ms Daniels’ lawyer by using a shell corporation funded through a Manhattan bank. Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid after indicating she was willing to speak to either the National Enquirer or on television confirming the encounter.

Trump insisted to reporters in 2018 that he didn’t know about the payment made to Ms Daniels through Mr Cohen. But Mr Bragg said on Tuesday that Trump reimbursed Mr Cohen after his 2016 victory with money from two sources: a trust that held the Trump Organisation’s assets and from his personal bank account.

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