I’ve said for a long time now that Donald Trump is the anti-Midas, everything he touches turns to shit. But it’s starting to look like if you spend enough time in close contact with him, it starts to rub off.
Michael Cohen is a hot mess. He’s already embroiled Trump in the Stormy Daniels controversy, something he was specifically paid to keep Trump out of. He’s exposed Elliott Broidy to personal humiliation, and possibly criminal liability, for covering up another Trump affair, with an unintended pregnancy. He’s screwed up AT&T and Novartis over his pathetic influence peddling attempts. Jeez, you need to wear a bio-hazard suit just to be in the same room with this clown.
And now he may be putting AMI, the parent company of the infamous rag, The National Enquirer, into the hurt locker. And, as with all of the above-listed controversies, he may be doing it without ever opening his mouth.
Cohen had already unintentionally injected AMI into the media spotlight. It was the National Enquirer who paid ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for her story of an affair with Trump shortly before the election and then killed the story. Cohen made eyebrows rise when it was reported that he was in direct contact with McDougal’s original lawyer negotiating the contract, calling into doubt his loyalty to his client.AMI was able to remain mostly above the fray since there was no link between Cohen and AMI directly.
But now, reporting has surfaced that AMI was submitting cover art, as well as pro-Trump or anti-Hillary stories to Cohen during the campaign, looking for a campaign seal of approval, or useful input in tailoring the article for impact. AMI has vociferously denied the reports, but the SDNY has now subpoenaed AMI for any records, so if it happened, it won’t remain under the bushel basket for long.
Publication editors have pretty wide latitude as far as editorial control of content is concerned. This is why pig troughs like the Drudge Report and Breitbart are able to publish obviously slanted articles, and in some cases pure fabrication with impunity. But the catch is that the work product is supposed to be their own, free of outside influence from the subject, or interested parties.
If an article about a candidate accepts input from the candidate’s campaign or kills a legitimate story, especially if it pays money to the source for the story, it ceases to be journalism and becomes a campaign ad. That could make the article considered an “in-kind donation” to the campaign. An advertising value would have to be assigned to the article using normal advertising rates, in other words, it would be considered a campaign contribution. AMI would need to report that contribution, and more importantly, the Trump campaign would be required to report that donation on their mandatory quarterly filings with the FEC. And so far, there is no indication that either AMI or the Trump campaign complied with the regulation.
This also puts the Karen McDougal saga into a new light. If her attorney, Keith Davidson, was in contact with Michael Cohen, as it now appears he was, then Cohen was aware of the negotiations with AMI. If it can be proven that AMI communicated with Cohen, and Cohen had any input in AMI’s decision to kill the story, then that $150,000 payment from A I to McDougal becomes an “in-kind contribution” to the Trump campaign, and both AMI and the Trump campaign would be required to report it.
But it isn’t just about reporting violations by AMI and the Trump campaign. FEC law restricts how much any individual or company can contribute to a campaign in a cycle. Conservative darling and fantasy filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza pled guilty to using straw donors to contribute an illegal amount to a friends campaign. If those Enquirer articles are classified as political advertising, and the going advertising rate puts them over the limit, and the McDougal payment is considered an in-kind donation, then campaign finance laws have been violated, and criminal charges could be filed, just ask D’Souza.
To be sure, nobody from either the Trump campaign nor AMI is going to prison for campaign finance violations. But, if this bubbles up, it will be yet another scandal that drives Trump into a frenzy at the media, and the possibility of a stiff fine, and maybe probation for his sins would be just one more brick on the hod of pressure on Michael Cohen to cooperate. It’s also another civic insight into the pervasive corruption of the entire Trump campaign operation. If they’ll manipulate the media with AMI, why would they draw the line at Russian media manipulation, it’s all the same thing, right?