US publisher granted immunity in probe over hush-money payments by Trump ex-lawyer

David Pecker, publisher of tabloid magazine has been granted immunity in the federal investigation into hush-money payments for two women during the 2016 US elections.

In this file photo taken on January 30, 2014, Philippe Kjellgren, David Pecker (C) and Petra Nemcova attend the Super Bowl XLVIII Party in New York City. 

David Pecker, publisher of tabloid magazine National Enquirer and seen as President Donald Trump's longtime friend, has been granted immunity in the federal investigation into hush-money payments for two women during the 2016 US elections by Trump's then personal lawyer Michael Cohen, multiple media outlets reported Thursday.

Cohen, who was Trump's longtime personal lawyer until earlier this year, pleaded guilty to eight counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations on Tuesday. He said in court that "in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office", he kept information that would have been harmful to the candidate and the campaign from becoming public.

Cohen didn't mention Trump's name but it is widely thought his claim has a clear reference to the president.

A report of The Wall Street Journal said that in exchange for immunity, Pecker met with prosecutors to discuss the involvement of Cohen and Trump in making the payment.

American Media, which publishes the National Enquirer, was referenced in court papers and involved in both hush-money deals that formed the basis of Cohen's guilty plea to campaign-finance violations, local reports said.

One was a US$130,000 payment to former porn star Stephanie Clifford. The second was a US$150,000 payment made to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who alleges she had an extramarital affair with Trump more than a decade ago.

Court documents said that American Media paid McDougal for the rights to her story in an attempt to keep her alleged relationship with Trump secret prior to the presidential election.

The arrangement is known as "catch and kill" — media outlets acquire the exclusive rights to a story but never publish it.

Pecker has a relationship with Trump dating back to the 1990s, according to The New Yorker. At the early stage of the 2016 US elections, the National Enquirer endorsed Trump for president, the first in its 90-year history.

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