A tabloid magazine publisher accused of buying and then burying a story about an alleged ex-lover of Donald Trump in 2016 has agreed to pay a fine for violating US election laws.
Trump will not be punished or the subject of further inquiry, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has ruled but the publisher of the National Enquirer will pay a fine of nearly US$200,000.
The FEC found that the money paid to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal during the presidential election amounted to an illegal campaign contribution.
The former president has denied ever having an affair with McDougal, but she has said she sold her story to the Enquirer for US$150,000, in an agreement that banned her from talking publicly about the alleged 2006 affair with Trump.
The FEC ruling states that the Enquirer’s publisher, “knowingly and wilfully” violated election laws by paying for the rights to McDougal’s story but never publishing it, in a media practice known as “catch and kill”.
The publisher’s chief executive David Pecker is a close friend of Trump and he previously acknowledged, in a deal to avoid criminal prosecution, that the payment was made to “suppress the woman’s story” and “prevent it from influencing the election”.
Documents relating to the case were released on Tuesday by Common Cause, a not-for-profit government watchdog group, which had filed a complaint to the FEC over three years ago related to the payment to McDougal as well as another payment to pornographic actress Stormy Daniels.
According to federal officials, the payment to McDougal was made in coordination with then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who later served time in jail for crimes including violations of election finance law.
Paul S Ryan, Common Cause’s vice-president of policy and litigation, called the ruling “a win for democracy”, but said “the only one not to be held accountable” in the case was the former president.