Top 1 Magazine

Top One Magazine

David Pecker was once ‘valuable’ to Donald Trump. Now his testimony could sink him.

If David Pecker sits, as expected, on the opposite side of the witness stand across the courtroom from Donald Trump, there will be decades of business — and something even like friendship — hanging in the air between them.

The two have known each other since the mid-1990s, when the publishing executive and former CEO of American Media, Inc., pitched Trump on launching Trump Style magazine, which documented the “glamour and fun” of Trump’s real estate properties and casinos for five years. Their relationship grew as they shared plane rides between their New York and Palm Beach, Florida, homes. Trump even invited Pecker to his wedding to Melania in 2005.

Pecker, in turn, became transfixed by Trump over the years, those familiar with their relationship say.

“He thought of himself like Trump — in the way he ran his businesses, in the way he saw himself, and the way Donald ran his businesses — everything he did, he did to try to emulate what Trump was doing,” said Marc Liu, Pecker’s former lieutenant and the vice president of marketing at AMI.

Now, all these years later, Pecker will be forced to testify against the man who treated him, in one former employee’s estimation, like a “little puppy,” and who he saw as a “king.”

The prosecution is expected to focus on a less savory aspect of their relationship, when Pecker agreed with Trump and his former fixer Michael Cohen in August 2015 at Trump Tower to “act as the ‘eyes and ears’ for the campaign by looking out for negative stories” about Trump, prosecutors say. In June of 2016, prosecutors say Pecker directed AMI to pay $150,000 to the former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal to silence her story of a sexual liaison with Trump — the alleged “catch and kill” scheme. That October, Pecker again intervened to kill a similar story from the porn star Stormy Daniels, this time to the tune of $130,000, prosecutors say. Pecker’s testimony could buttress Cohen’s.

More than most other witnesses expected to appear over the course of Trump’s hush-money trial, Pecker and Trump’s symbiotic coexistence is emblematic of both the former president’s keen awareness of how he is covered in the press and the transactional relationships he has surrounded himself with over the decades.

“That’s why he was so valuable to someone like Trump, because Trump is a media addict, and cared deeply about how a publication like the Enquirer portrayed him and the people around him,” said Trump biographer and critic Tim O’Brien.

Pecker has not talked to a journalist on the record since at least 2017 and did not respond to requests for comment for this story. He is little more than a footnote in even the most expansive biographies of Trump. A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a POLITICO request for comment.

“He’s probably hiding under his bed because of all this bullshit,” said Bo Dietl, the retired New York Police Department detective and friend of Pecker for 35 years, who occasionally dined with him at Rao’s, the storied East Harlem red sauce restaurant, where Pecker had a standing table on the third Thursday of every month.

“Once all the investigations started, I think he pretty much went to ground,” said Jeffrey Toobin, the veteran court reporter who profiled Pecker’s publication for The New Yorker in 2017.

The 73-year-old Pecker and Trump could have been separated at birth. Pecker was born in the Bronx, the son of a bricklayer; Trump in Queens, the son of a real estate developer. Both exercised an iron grip over the respective fiefdoms. Both have felt the sting of the establishment’s averted glances.

And both seem to have a finger-tip feel for their bases. “These are people that live their life failing, so they want to read negative things about people who have gone up and then come down,” Pecker once said of the Enquirer’s blue-collar audience.

“I came up on the financial side, and all my counterparts were in advertising and sales,” Pecker, who became an accountant to support his family after his father died when he was 16, once told a reporter. “I wasn’t accepted. I didn’t go to Harvard. I didn’t come from a WASP background. I came from the Bronx.”

Today, Pecker wears $350 custom Brioni shirts. And he has long kept a bodyguard, whom he would expect to scan a mirror beneath his car before getting in, ensuring there were no car bombs. Pecker ran a tight ship, and he required that his hired muscle slide his car chair back to account for his taller than 6-foot frame.

“One of the times he didn’t put the seat back and David fired him — just like that,” Liu said.

Cohen declined an interview about Pecker “out of respect for the prosecution.” Dylan Howard, Pecker’s second-in-command at AMI, did not respond to requests for comment.

Pecker developed the kind of glossy media cachet Trump craves. In the 1990s, he served as president and chief executive officer of Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, and in 1995, launched George, the monthly political lifestyle publication edited by John F. Kennedy Jr. Pecker, according to the longtime New York media columnist Keith Kelly, “definitely knew that he was latching on to something bigger than himself.”

That same desire would ultimately lead him to Trump.

Pecker stoked Trump’s ego with the magazine he created to capture his properties in the first issue, which debuted in February 1997. It was available to guests at Trump’s casino hotels, and published by The New York Times Custom Publishing, who churned out 130,000 copies of the issue. Two years into the magazine’s lifespan, he became chairman, president and chief executive officer of American Media, Inc., known as AMI.

In August of 2021, an executive at Accelerate 360, the company beneath Chatham Asset Management, announced that Pecker was out at American Media.

By last January, Manhattan prosecutors had met with Pecker as they built their case against Trump.

Liu, Pecker’s former lieutenant, said Pecker must be pained by how his story with Trump could end with his own testimony against him.

He said, “I don’t think he would unless he had to.”

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