In a bombshell New Yorker report from Ronan Farrow, who was the first reporter to expose Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein for his decades-long history of sexual assault, Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Model who first met President Trump in 2006 during a pool party at the Playboy mansion, shared details about her alleged relationship with the president, and his relationship with National Enquirer owner David Pecker (and holding company American Media Inc), a longtime “personal friend” who once reportedly paid her $ 150,000 for the exclusive rights to her story, only to let it never see the light of day.
In the world of tabloid journalism, this process is called “catch and kill“. Though McDougal’s story was first reported in 2016 by the Wall Street Journal, Farrow’s account is the first time she’s shared her story – which she “corroborated with an eight-page handwritten account taken at the time of the affair” – in full detail.
The two first met after a taping of Trump’s show, the Apprentice, at the Playboy mansion. Trump was reportedly “all over her” and one of the show’s producers even remarked “you could be his next wife.” According to the New Yorker, McDougal kept handwritten notes about the affair, which she said began in 2006, after the taping of “The Apprentice” episode.
Over a period of nine months, Trump ferried her to meet him both in LA and around the country, taking care not to leave a paper trail. During their meetings, McDougal said she would first be led to meet Trump by Keith Schiller, his former bodyguard.
Pecker’s relationship with Trump is an advantageous one for him, because Pecker is likely one of the few people who knows where “all the bodies are buried” for the most powerful man in the world. Trump has denied the affair.
McDougal, in her first on-the-record comments about A.M.I.’s handling of her story, declined to discuss the details of her relationship with Trump, for fear of violating the agreement she reached with the company. She did say, however, that she regretted signing the contract. “It took my rights away,” McDougal told me. “At this point I feel I can’t talk about anything without getting into trouble, because I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about. I’m afraid to even mention his name.”
A White House spokesperson said in a statement that Trump denies having had an affair with McDougal:
“This is an old story that is just more fake news. The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal.”
American Media said that an amendment to McDougal’s contract—signed after Trump won the election—allowed her to “respond to legitimate press inquiries” regarding the affair. The company said that it did not print the story because it did not find it credible.
Six former A.M.I. employees told me that Pecker routinely makes catch-and-kill arrangements like the one reached with McDougal. “We had stories and we bought them knowing full well they were never going to run,” Jerry George, a former A.M.I. senior editor who worked at the company for more than twenty-five years, told me. George said that Pecker protected Trump. “Pecker really considered him a friend,” George told me. “We never printed a word about Trump without his approval.” Maxine Page, who worked at A.M.I. on and off from 2002 to 2012, including as an executive editor at one of the company’s Web sites, said that Pecker also used the unpublished stories as “leverage” over some celebrities in order to pressure them to pose for his magazines or feed him stories. Several former employees said that these celebrities included Arnold Schwarzenegger, as reported by the Los Angeles Times, and Tiger Woods. (Schwarzenegger, through an attorney, denied this claim. Woods did not respond to requests for comment.) “Even though they’re just tabloids, just rags, it’s still a cause of concern,” Page said. “In theory, you would think that Trump has all the power in that relationship, but in fact Pecker has the power – he has the power to run these stories. He knows where the bodies are buried.”
While there’s no evidence Pecker has ever used his leverage over Trump, several of his former employees said he would often use “killed” stories as leverage to get celebrities like Tiger Woods to feed him stories.
During their relationship, McDougal noted that Trump would always order the same meal (steak and potatoes with no alcohol) and that he often would send her press clippings about himself or his children. McDougal’s account shared some amusing similarities with an account of an affair with Trump offered by former adult film actress Stormy Daniels. For instance, both Daniels and McDougal said Trump watched Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” programming with them. Daniels famously revealed that Trump told her he hates sharks.
After their first sexual encounter, McDougal said Trump offered to pay her – to which she declined.
As the pool party at the Playboy Mansion came to an end, Trump asked for McDougal’s telephone number. For McDougal, who grew up in a small town in Michigan and worked as a preschool teacher before beginning her modelling career, such advances were not unusual. John Crawford, McDougal’s friend, who also helped broker her deal with A.M.I., said that Trump was “another powerful guy hitting on her, a gal who’s paid to be at work.” Trump and McDougal began talking frequently on the phone, and soon had what McDougal described as their first date: dinner in a private bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. McDougal wrote that Trump impressed her. “I was so nervous! I was into his intelligence + charm. Such a polite man,” she wrote. “We talked for a couple hours – then, it was “ON”! We got naked + had sex.” As McDougal was getting dressed to leave, Trump did something that surprised her. “He offered me money,” she wrote. “I looked at him (+ felt sad) + said, ‘No thanks – I’m not ‘that girl.’ I slept w/you because I like you – NOT for money’ – He told me ‘you are special.’
The New Yorker also described the elaborate system that was created to conceal Trump’s alleged affair:
Afterward, McDougal wrote, she “went to see him every time he was in LA (which was a lot).” Trump, she said, always stayed in the same bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel and ordered the same meal—steak and mashed potatoes—and never drank. McDougal’s account is consistent with other descriptions of Trump’s behavior. Last month, In Touch Weekly published an interview conducted in 2011 with Stephanie Clifford in which she revealed that during a relationship with Trump she met him for dinner at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Trump insisted they watch “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel. Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” alleged that Trump assaulted her at a private dinner meeting, in December of 2007, at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Trump, Zervos has claimed, kissed her, groped her breast, and suggested that they lie down to “watch some telly-telly.” After Zervos rebuffed Trump’s advances, she said that he “began thrusting his genitals” against her. (Zervos recently sued Trump for defamation after he denied her account.) All three women say that they were escorted to a bungalow at the hotel by a Trump bodyguard, whom two of the women have identified as Keith Schiller. After Trump was elected, Schiller was appointed director of Oval Office Operations and deputy assistant to the President. Last September, John Kelly, acting as the new chief of staff, removed Schiller from the White House posts. (Schiller did not respond to a request for comment.)
Over the course of the affair, Trump flew McDougal to public events across the country but hid the fact that he paid for her travel. “No paper trails for him,” she wrote. “In fact, every time I flew to meet him, I booked/paid for flight + hotel + he reimbursed me.” In July, 2006, McDougal joined Trump at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, at the Edgewood Resort, on Lake Tahoe. At a party there, she and Trump sat in a booth with the New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, and Trump told her that Brees had recognized her, remarking, “Baby, you’re popular.” (Brees, through a spokesman, denied meeting Trump or McDougal at the event.) At another California golf event, Trump told McDougal that Tiger Woods had asked who she was. Trump, she recalled, warned her “to stay away from that one, LOL.”
Trump promised to buy McDougal a condo – which he never did – and also introduced her to members of his family.
McDougal, who had earlier kept quiet for fear of reprisal, said she ended the affair in April 2007 because she felt “tremendously guilty” (though Trump had revealed to her that he and his wife Melania maintained separate bedrooms).
McDougal ended the relationship in April, 2007, after nine months. According to Crawford, the breakup was prompted in part by McDougal’s feelings of guilt. “She couldn’t look at herself in the mirror anymore,” Crawford said. “And she was concerned about what her mother thought of her.” The decision was reinforced by a series of comments Trump made that McDougal found disrespectful, according to several of her friends. When she raised her concern about her mother’s disapproval to Trump, he replied, “What, that old hag?” (McDougal, hurt, pointed out that Trump and her mother were close in age.) On the night of the Miss Universe pageant McDougal attended, McDougal and a friend rode with Trump in his limousine and the friend mentioned a relationship she had had with an African-American man. According to multiple sources, Trump remarked that the friend liked “the big black dick” and began commenting on her attractiveness and breast size. The interactions angered the friend and deeply offended McDougal.
Speaking carefully for fear of legal reprisal, McDougal responded to questions about whether she felt guilty about the affair, as her friends suggested, by saying that she had found God in the last several years and regretted parts of her past. “This is a new me,” she told me. “If I could go back and do a lot of things differently, I definitely would.”
Trump also hooked up with McDougal at the Lake Tahoe golf tournament in 2006 where he also met Daniels. While McDougal said she voluntarily sold her story to the Enquirer, she insists that the way the deal was done was “exploitative.”
She sold the story during the 2016 presidential election, after a friend suggested it, and brokered the transaction – though she was fearful of going public for fear that Trump’s supporters might harass her. McDougal says she is a Republican. She signed her agreement with the Enquirer on Aug. 5, 2016, about a month before the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape broke, and while Daniels was also trying to negotiate selling her story to “Good Morning America” and Slate.