— The National Enquirer kept a safe containing damaging documents on hush-money payments and other stories that it killed on Trump’s behalf. The AP’s Jeff Horwitz reports: “Several people familiar with the National Enquirer’s parent company … said the safe was a great source of power for [Pecker]. The Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities’ catch-and-kill deals … By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return. But after [Karen McDougal’s catch-and-kill deal was revealed], those assets became a liability. … Fearful that the documents might be used against American Media, Pecker and [Howard] removed them from the safe in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration … It was unclear whether the documents were destroyed or simply were moved to a location known to fewer people.”
.. The Enquirer’s efforts to kill negative Trump stories extended way beyond the 2016 campaign: “Former Enquirer employees who spoke to the AP said that negative stories about Trump were dead on arrival dating back more than a decade when he starred on NBC’s reality show ‘The Apprentice.’ In 2010, at Cohen’s urging, the National Enquirer began promoting a potential Trump presidential candidacy, referring readers to a pro-Trump website Cohen helped create. With Cohen’s involvement, the publication began questioning [Obama’s] birthplace and American citizenship in print.”
.. — The Manhattan district attorney’s office is also weighing possible criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its senior officials. The New York Times’s William K. Rashbaum reports: “A state investigation would center on how the company accounted for its reimbursement to Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid to [Stormy Daniels] … [Two] officials stressed that the office’s review of the matter is in its earliest stages and prosecutors have not yet made a decision on whether to proceed. State charges against the company or its executives could be significant because Mr. Trump has talked about pardoning some of his current or former aides who have faced federal charges. As president, he has no power to pardon people and corporate entities convicted of state crimes.”
.. “Trump’s lawyers counseled the president against the idea of pardoning anyone linked to the investigation … saying Trump should at least wait until [Mueller] has concluded his probe.
.. Asked about a pardon, one senior White House official said: ‘What does it accomplish? You pardon him, it doesn’t get rid of the Mueller probe, it causes you more headaches, he still has another trial, you have more Republicans coming after you.’”
.. “Trump’s consideration of pardons, while he praises associates who don’t cooperate with investigations and help those who praise him, also could have a chilling effect, law enforcement officials said,”
.. ‘The president has not a whit of respect for institutions, whether it’s the DOJ or the Fed or the FBI,’ said one former senior administration official. ‘If you are a threat to him, he is going to try to kill you.’
.. Two powerful members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who have been shielding Sessions gave air cover for Trump to fire him after Fox aired the interview. This is significant because a new AG who is not recused from the investigation could oversee Mueller’s work and rein in his probe.
.. — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently golfed with Trump, said it’s “very likely” that the president will oust Sessions but urged him to wait until after the midterms to do so. “The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” Graham said. “Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.” (Graham sung a different tune last July. “If Jeff Sessions is fired,” he said then, “there will be holy hell to pay.”)
.. — Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also shifted his position and announced he will now be able to find time to hold a confirmation hearing for a new attorney general this fall after the Supreme Court vacancy is filled. “Grassley said he was not advocating for a change at the Justice Department but simply responding to questions about timing,” Devlin Barrett, John Wagner and Seung Min Kim report. “Asked whether he still has confidence in Sessions, Grassley said: ‘Let’s put it this way, he’s a good friend.’
.. “Part of the disenchantment stems from a growing rift between Grassley and Sessions over Grassley’s legislation to change criminal justice policy. Sessions, whose views on law enforcement are shaped largely by 1980s-era mandatory-minimum sentences and harsh penalties for drug dealers, came out against the measure earlier this year, saying it ‘risks putting the very worst criminals back into our communities.’ Grassley has been willing to work with Democrats on legislation that would reduce prison sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders. He was furious that Sessions opposed his bill, one of his biggest legislative priorities… ‘It’s Grassley’s bill, and when the attorney general said he wouldn’t support it, Grassley said that was disloyal,’ said a person close to Sessions. ‘But … the attorney general isn’t going to be blackmailed.’”
During the presidential campaign, Michael D. Cohen got a Google alert for a breaking story: “Russian President Vladimir Putin Praises Donald Trump as ‘Talented’ and ‘Very Colorful.’”
For most American politicians, that article in December 2015 would hardly have been welcome news. But Mr. Cohen, whose role as personal lawyer and fixer for President Trump has been firmly rooted in the transactional world of his boss, saw opportunity. He emailed an old friend who had been talking about seeking Kremlin support to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, and sent him the article.
“Now is the time,” Mr. Cohen wrote. “Call me.”
.. Mr. Trump values few things more than loyalty, but secrecy is one of them. For years, to keep the circle of people involved as small as possible, he chose to have Mr. Cohen serve as his legal attack dog from a perch inside Trump Tower in Manhattan instead of having outside counsel deal with his problems, according to two people familiar with their relationship.
.. In private, Mr. Cohen has compared himself to Tom Hagen, the smooth consigliere to the mafia family in the movie “The Godfather.”
.. The lawyer seemed to relish his reputation as Mr. Trump’s “pit bull” and embraced an aggressive — some say bullying — approach to solving problems.
.. he never got a senior administration job, which people who know him say he expected
.. Another payment that the F.B.I. is said to be investigating, for $150,000, was made by American Media Inc., the parent company of The National Enquirer.
.. Mr. Trump, who was from Queens, and the Bronx-born Mr. Pecker viewed themselves as outsiders looking in at an elitist Manhattan establishment.
.. Several people close to A.M.I. and Mr. Cohen have said that the lawyer was in regular contact with company executives during the presidential campaign, when The Enquirer regularly heralded Mr. Trump and attacked his rivals.
.. A.M.I. had shared Ms. McDougal’s allegations with Mr. Cohen, though the company said it did so only as part of efforts to corroborate her story, which it said it could not do.
.. The Times reported that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was looking into a $150,000 donation to Mr. Trump’s charitable foundation from a Ukrainian billionaire that was solicited by Mr. Cohen during the 2016 campaign.
.. Mr. Mueller has examined Mr. Cohen’s postelection role in forwarding to the administration a Ukraine-Russia peace proposal pushed by a Ukrainian lawmaker.
.. Mr. Cohen wasted no time, arranging for Mr. Trump to sign a letter of intent for the Moscow tower deal. But the project seemed to stall in the coming months.
Rather than let it go, Mr. Cohen reached out directly to Mr. Putin’s press secretary in January 2016, asking for assistance. Later, he asserted that his effort was unsuccessful.
In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Trump was one of 17 candidates who vied to be the Republican candidate, and none of his opponents were safe from ridicule in The Enquirer.
In October 2015, a headline called Ben Carson a “bungling surgeon.” The article said he had potentially “butchered one patient’s brain.” A month later, an article called him a “disgraced doctor” with a “violent past.”
In June of that year, an article claimed that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, had cheated on his wife, citing unnamed reports that linked Mr. Bush to a “Playboy bunny-turned-lawyer.”
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee and a favorite target of Mr. Trump, took the brunt of the scorn. A September 2015 article, using information from “sources,” said the “desperate and deteriorating 67-year-old won’t make it to the White House — because she’ll be dead in six months.”
.. In February 2017, days after Michael T. Flynn resigned as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, the tabloid claimed that Mr. Obama had a secret plot to impeach Mr. Trump. And as recently as March 2017 the tabloid continued to claim that Mr. Obama, who was born in Hawaii, was foreign born, even though Mr. Trump had since let go of the false birther theory that he long promoted.
.. The National Enquirer and its parent company have not only helped the president by denigrating others, but also repeatedly praised Mr. Trump, his decisions and his character.
In March 2016, for the first time in its 90 years, The Enquirer endorsed a candidate for president — Donald J. Trump.
.. Mr. Pecker traveled to Saudi Arabia. In January, he sought Saudi investors to help bankroll a possible acquisition of Time magazine, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter. American Media disputed that. As Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, arrived this month for a tour of the United States, Mr. Pecker’s company published a 97-page magazine about Saudi Arabia that glosses over troubling details about the kingdom.