Donald Trump 'agreed story-burying deal' with tabloid newspaper before 2016 election

Speaking for the first time on British television, the former executive editor of the National Enquirer Lachlan Cartwright is withering about the extent of collusion between the tabloid he edited and Trump's 2016 election campaign. ITV News' US Correspondent Dan River reports.

The so-called Hush Money trial involving Donald Trump in New York is an historical first.

This is the only time a former president has faced serious criminal charges.

Mr Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records and lying about alleged hush money payments to women who claim they were his mistress. He has denied all of the allegations.

But the prosecution this week painted a broader picture, setting out how by lying about these payments in the company accounts, Mr Trump was covering up a conspiracy to influence the 2016 election against Hilary Clinton.

The scheme involved a dodgy deal with one of America's most notorious tabloids, the National Enquirer.

David Pecker was the CEO of the Enquirer's parent company, America Media Inc.

Prosecutors have alleged that Mr Trump and Mr Pecker came to an agreement in which the Enquirer would buy up and then bury negative stories about Mr Trump, and promote damaging tales about his rivals - many of which were downright lies.

ITV News has approached the Enquirer for comment.

One of the men who had a rare insider's view of this sordid world, was Lachlan Cartwright.

He was executive editor of the National Enquirer during Mr Trump's campaign to win the presidency between 2015 and 2016, and is now a special correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter.

He's given his first UK TV interview to ITV News, in which he details his suspicions about a conspiracy which he caught wind of before Mr Trump won the election.

He described how one story in particular seemed odd. It involved a doorman at Trump Tower, Dino Sajudin, who had been shopping around a tale that Mr Trump had fathered a love child - a claim that was later discredited.

Mr Cartwright investigated and was instructed to buy up Mr Sajudin's story for an eye-watering $30,000 (£24,100).

This was far higher than the normal fees the Enquirer might have paid for similar stories.

Despite the large sum for the exclusive rights to his story, Mr Sajudin's account was never published. It was buried.

The fact it wasn't true doesn't necessarily explain why it wasn't published. The National Enquirer published plenty of blatantly false stories, like Ted Cruz's father being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

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The sudden dropping of a lurid story about Mr Trump aroused Mr Cartwright's suspicions that something was off.

"I would whisper to mates, you know, at the pub late at night, and they would look at me like, Lachs, you know, you need to chill out," he told ITV News.

"Like, you seem like a conspiracy theorist."

But Mr Cartwright remained convinced a deal had been done between Mr Pecker and Mr Trump.

He said: "I'm thinking something is off here, but it's unclear to me what that is... It was basically, David has made the decision that we're moving on from this and we're paying Dino, and that's it.

"And bearing in mind, this was coming to the end of 2015, so we're coming into the election year.

"We had two private investigators who would come in to run a polygraph tests on sources. It was kind of an insurance measure, against litigation.

"So we'd gone to these efforts to get the photos in hand, and then all of a sudden, you know, we're being told to, to stand out. So it struck me as odd."

It was only when the indictment against Mr Trump was finally made public that Mr Cartwright's suspicions were confirmed.

"It was one hell of a moment," he said.

Donald Trump sits at the defence table while David Pecker testifies in his Hush Money trial. Credit: AP

He is withering about the extent of collusion between the tabloid he edited and Mr Trump's campaign, saying: "This is the first time, certainly that I'm aware of in American democracy, that a media organisation has turned itself into a criminal enterprise to help protect a candidate and help to swing an election. And that is what is key here.

"This is a case about election interference… this was a conspiracy to help get Donald Trump elected and, to help sway the 2016 election.

"And we've never seen anything like this in American democracy."

Well we hadn't seen anything like this until the 2020 election, when Mr Trump's attempts to play the system became even more outrageous.

He's facing other charges in Georgia concerning his attempts to rig the result and a Federal case in Washington DC about his efforts to overturn Joe Biden's victory.

Mr Cartwright is convinced Mr Trump's fixer Michael Cohen and Mr Trump himself were intimately involved in the terms of the deal with the National Enquirer, both attending a key meeting with Mr Pecker in 2015.

"If we go back to that meeting in August of 2015 with Donald Trump at Trump Tower, and Michael Cohen and David Pecker, where they hatch this scheme, uh, to, to buy negative stories off the market, to bury those stories, which is catch and kill, and then to run negative stories, hit pieces about, about Trump's rivals.

"Trump is in the room for that meeting and has first-hand knowledge of that."

Mr Trump's lawyers will no doubt try to claim he had no knowledge of the conspiracy to fix the news agenda, but the New York case goes to the heart of that question: did Mr Trump pay hush money to improve his electoral chances, thereby breaking strict campaign finance rules?

In a few weeks the jury in Manhattan will have to answer that. Their answer might just change the course of history.

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