National Enquirer boss and longtime Trump friend David Pecker gets federal immunity in Michael Cohen case

Key Points
  • AMI chairman David Pecker gave prosecutors information about President Donald Trump's knowledge of payments his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen made to women alleging affairs with Trump.
  • Pecker, along with both his company and the Trump Organization, had reportedly been subpoenaed by federal investigators in April.
  • Cohen pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight criminal charges including tax fraud and campaign finance violations, and could face years in prison.
Sessions fires back at Trump and National Enquirer publisher gets immunity
Sessions fires back at Trump and David Pecker gets immunity

The chairman of the company that publishes the National Enquirer was granted immunity by federal prosecutors as part of an investigation into President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, NBC News reported Thursday.

The immunity deal was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair.

Details of the agreement were not immediately known. But the Journal reported earlier Thursday that American Media Inc. Chairman David Pecker had given prosecutors details about the president's knowledge of payments Cohen made to women alleging affairs with Trump.

Prosecutors declined CNBC's request for comment on the Journal's report. A spokesman for American Media did not immediately respond to CNBC's requests for comment.

The immunity deal could hold significant consequences for Trump, as Pecker could have as much damaging information about the president as anyone in Trump's orbit.

He and Pecker have been friends since the 1990s, and have appeared to remain so after Trump became president — the media mogul even visited the White House last year, according to The New York Times.

Pecker has also reportedly used his media holdings to shield Trump when the president was a New York real estate developer and reality television star. Pecker's publications have defended Trump as a presidential candidate, as well, including a reported effort during the 2016 election to stifle ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal's allegations of an affair with Trump.

Trump has been a public advocate for Pecker, too. In 2013, he tweeted several times urging Time Magazine to hire Pecker as its top executive. "Nobody could bring [the magazine] back like David!" Trump wrote in one of the tweets.

Pecker was subpoenaed by federal investigators in April, as were his company and the Trump Organization. The Journal said the subpoenas were served at the same time the FBI raided Cohen's office and residences, seizing electronics, recordings and thousands of documents.

David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media 
Marion Curtis | AP  

Cohen pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight criminal charges, including tax fraud and campaign finance violations, and could face years in prison. The Journal reported that he struck a plea deal shortly after federal prosecutors signaled he could face as many as 20 criminal counts.

In a courtroom statement, Cohen said, without mentioning the president by name, that Trump directed him to arrange the payments to two women "for the principal purpose of influencing the election."

The hush-money deals, which were both made in the run-up to the November 2016 presidential election, formed the foundation of the campaign finance crimes Cohen pleaded guilty to.

But Trump, in a Fox News interview after Cohen's plea, denied knowing about Cohen's payments until "later on."

Later in the interview, Trump reacted to Cohen's plea bargain with prosecutors by suggesting that it should be "illegal" for people facing criminal charges to make deals with the government.

"It's called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal," Trump said. "It's not a fair thing."

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment on the reports about Pecker.

Both Cohen and American Media, or AMI, were involved in two payments made to women who say they had sex with Trump years before he became president, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Though they only named Cohen explicitly, the Justice Department said Tuesday that the "chairman" of "a media company that owns, among other things, a popular tabloid magazine" put Cohen in touch with one of the women, who in October 2016 was paid $130,000 in exchange for her silence about the alleged affair.

That woman, porn star Stormy Daniels, is suing Trump and Cohen in California to void the hush-money agreement and speak freely about the alleged tryst.

A spokesman for AMI did not immediately respond to a phone message left by CNBC.

The other woman was McDougal, the former Playboy model paid $150,000 in August 2016 by AMI for exclusive rights to her own story about an alleged dalliance with Trump. In a practice known within the industry as "catch and kill," the story was never published, allegedly to protect Trump from bad publicity on the eve of the election.

McDougal reached a settlement agreement in her lawsuit against AMI in April, freeing her from the hush deal.

Cohen had urged one of the publisher's editors to buy — and bury — McDougal's story, promising that the company would be reimbursed, prosecutors said.

The White House has denied Trump had sex with the two women.

--CNBC's Brian Schwartz contributed to this report.