Former Playboy Model Sues To Be Able To Tell Her Story Of Affair With Trump
Former Playboy model Karen McDougal is suing the publisher of the National Enquirer for the right to tell her story of an alleged affair with President Trump in 2006.
A former Playboy model who claims to have had a consensual affair with President Trump is suing the publisher of the National Enquirer for the right to be able to speak publicly about her relationship with the President:
A former Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Donald J. Trump sued on Tuesday to be released from a 2016 legal agreement restricting her ability to speak, becoming the second woman this month to challenge Trump allies’ efforts during the presidential campaign to bury stories about extramarital relationships.
The model, Karen McDougal, is suing The National Enquirer’s parent company, which paid her $150,000 and whose chief executive is a friend of President Trump’s. The other woman, the adult entertainment star Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, was paid $130,000 to stay quiet by the president’s personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen. She filed a lawsuit earlier this month.
Both women, who argue that their contracts are invalid, are trying to get around clauses requiring them to resolve disputes in secretive arbitration proceedings rather than in open court. Mr. Trump has denied the affairs, which both women have described as consensual.
Ms. McDougal, in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims that Mr. Cohen was secretly involved in her talks with the tabloid company, American Media Inc., and that A.M.I. and her lawyer at the time misled her about the deal. She also asserts that after she spoke last month with The New Yorker, which obtained notes she kept on Mr. Trump, A.M.I. warned that “any further disclosures would breach Karen’s contract” and “cause considerable monetary damages.”
In an email to The New York Times, her new lawyer, Peter K. Stris, accused A.M.I. of “a multifaceted effort to silence Karen McDougal.”
“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.”
Shortly after Ms. McDougal filed her suit, CNN announced that she would sit for an interview with Anderson Cooper on Thursday. Ms. Clifford was to appear on “60 Minutes” three days later to discuss her relationship with Mr. Trump and the efforts Mr. Cohen undertook on his client’s behalf to pay for her silence.
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 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, shortly after Mr. Trump locked up the Republican nomination.
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.
In a statement on Tuesday, A.M.I. said that its contract with Ms. McDougal was valid and that it looked forward “to reaching an amicable resolution.” It added that while she had given the company “editorial discretion to publish her life story,” she had been “free to respond to press inquiries about her relationship with President Trump since 2016.”
A.M.I. amended her contract after the election, allowing her to answer “legitimate” questions from the press. But the lawsuit contends that the parameters were unclear to her, and her lawyers argue that A.M.I. can continue to control her responses.
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.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.
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.
Unlike the lawsuit filed by Stephanie Clifford/Stormy Daniels seeking to void her settlement agreement and the civil complaint filed by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zarvos alleging that the President defamed her in October 2016 when he contended that she and other women accusing him of sexual harassment were lying, this case does not directly involve the President of the United States or name him as a Defendant. Instead, McDougal is seeking to void the agreement she reached with the publisher of the National Enquirer that essentially led to her story being buried and her being barred from speaking about it in other forums. Despite this, the shadow of the President looms over the case just as much as it will over the other cases.
In the end, the issue involved in this case is an allegation that the President was involved in a sexual relationship with another, albeit a voluntary one in this case and the Daniels case. The McDougal case is also similar to the Stormy Daniels case in the allegation that someone close to Trump sought to silence McDougal from telling her story through the use of a contract. In the Daniels case, of course, the Trump associate in question is his longtime attorney Michael Cohen, who has long had a reputation as a “fixer” for Trump in both his business and personal affairs. In the McDougal affair, the Trump associate is David J. Pecker, who is the Chairman and CEO of American Media, Inc., the publisher that owns and operates the National Enquirer and a number of other publications. The complaint alleges that Pecker and AMI essentially sought to deceive McDougal into selling her story to AMI so that it would have exclusive rights to that story, in exchange for which she apparently received $150,000 as well as promises that she would be given space in the pages of AMI publications in the future. McDougal alleges that AMI has not complied with those provisions of the agreement and that the entire purpose for entering into the agreement was to obtain the rights to the story of McDougal’s affair with Trump and then never publish, a practice known as “catch and kill” that AMI has been known to use in the past when it came to stories about people with whom Pecker has a close relationship, such as President Trump.
In attacking the agreement, McDougal relies on three principal legal arguments. First, she claims that she was fraudulently induced into entering into the agreement based on the representation that AMI would run the agreed upon columns that are mentioned in the agreement. In reality, the contract merely states that AMI would have the right to run such columns, there is no obligation that it actually do so. McDougal alleges that she was deceived in this regard based on the representations of both AMI and her own attorney at the time. The problem that McDougal faces in this regard is that the agreement states in rather straightforward language that AMI is only purchasing the “right” to run columns and doesn’t seem to contain any language regarding an obligation to do so. To get around this, McDougal will essentially have to prove that she was unaware of what was in the contract, but this is generally speaking not an easy argument to make. The Complaint also alleges that the agreement was entered into on AMI’s side for the illegal purpose of influencing the outcome of the 2016 election and that it also qualifies as an illegal corporate contribution to a political campaign, which is barred by Federal law and regulation. Finally, the Complaint argues that the agreement violates public policy because it prevents the protection of free and open debate on matters of public interest. These last two allegations seem equally difficult to prove even though the factual allegations regarding the interactions between McDougal, her attorney at the time, and representatives of AMI, as well as the alleged involvement of Michael Cohen behind the scenes, are all set forth in some detail. Even if all this is true, it’s not at all clear that these would be sufficient grounds upon which to void an agreement that otherwise appears to be the result of substantive negotiations between McDougal and her attorney and representatives of AMI.
In any case, as with the Daniels and Zervos cases, this case will move forward in the court system. For the moment, it is pending in state court in California, but the possibility exists that lawyers for AMI may seek to move the case to Federal court in order to more effectively take advantage of the arbitration clause in the agreement.
Here’s the Complaint: