Eight months before the company that owns the National Enquirer paid $150,000 to a former Playboy Playmate who claimed she'd had an affair with Donald Trump, the tabloid's parent made a $30,000 payment to a less famous individual: a former doorman at one of the real estate mogul's New York City buildings.
As it did with the ex-Playmate, the Enquirer signed the ex-doorman to a contract that effectively prevented him from going public with a juicy tale that might hurt Trump's campaign for president.
The payout to the former Playmate, Karen McDougal, stayed a secret until the Wall Street Journal published a story about it days before Election Day. Since then curiosity about that deal has spawned intense media coverage and, this week, helped prompt the FBI to raid the hotel room and offices of Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
The story of the ex-doorman, Dino Sajudin, hasn't been told until now.
The Associated Press confirmed the details of the Enquirer's payment through a review of a confidential contract and interviews with dozens of current and former employees of the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc. Sajudin got $30,000 in exchange for signing over the rights, "in perpetuity," to a rumor he'd heard about Trump's sex life — that the president had fathered an illegitimate child with an employee at Trump World Tower, a skyscraper he owns near the United Nations. The contract subjected Sajudin to a $1 million penalty if he disclosed either the rumor or the terms of the deal to anyone.
Cohen, the longtime Trump attorney, acknowledged to the AP that he had discussed Sajudin's story with the magazine when the tabloid was working on it. He said he was acting as a Trump spokesman when he did so and denied knowing anything beforehand about the Enquirer payment to the ex-doorman.
The parallel between the ex-Playmate's and the ex-doorman's dealings with the Enquirer raises new questions about the roles that the Enquirer and Cohen may have played in protecting Trump's image during a hard-fought presidential election. Prosecutors are probing whether Cohen broke banking or campaign laws in connection with AMI's payment to McDougal and a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels that Cohen said he paid out of his own pocket.
Federal investigators have sought communications between Cohen, American Media's chief executive and the Enquirer's top editor, the New York Times reported.
Cohen's lawyer has called the raids "inappropriate and unnecessary." American Media hasn't said whether federal authorities have sought information from it, but said this week that it would "comply with any and all requests that do not jeopardize or violate its protected sources or materials pursuant to our First Amendment rights." The White House didn't respond to questions seeking comment.
On Wednesday, an Enquirer sister publication, RadarOnline, published details of the payment and the rumor that Sajudin was peddling. The website wrote that the Enquirer spent four weeks reporting the story but ultimately decided it wasn't true. The company only released Sajudin from his contract after the 2016 election amid inquiries from the Journal about the payment. The site noted that the AP was among a group of publications that had been investigating the ex-doorman's tip.
During AP's reporting, AMI threatened legal action over reporters' efforts to interview current and former employees and hired the New York law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, which challenged the accuracy of the AP's reporting.
Asked about the payment last summer, Dylan Howard, the Enquirer's top editor and an AMI executive, said he made the payment to secure the former Trump doorman's exclusive cooperation because the tip, if true, would have sold "hundreds of thousands" of magazines. Ultimately, he said the information "lacked any credibility," so he spiked the story on those merits.
"Unfortunately...Dino Sajudin is one fish that swam away," Howard told RadarOnline on Wednesday.