DAVID PECKER

His name should be the least of his problems, the merciless wrath of Beavis and Butthead devotees notwithstanding.

Surely that thought crossed David Pecker’s mind before he was granted witness immunity in the federal investigation of the Trump/Cohen hush-money payoff scandal.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in exchange for their cooperation neither Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc., nor Dylan Howard the company’s chief content officer will face the ignominy and abject mortification of prosecution — and all of its attendant notoriety — for their roles in the payoffs made to a porn star and former Playboy Playmate. The two top execs of the publishing company whose stable includes its flagship National Enquirer among many other supermarket tabloids may now freely spill all the beans regarding the roles played by Trump and Michael Cohen in this hot mess without worrying about the ill fit of an orange jumpsuit or the boldness of prison stripes.

Pecker and Trump have history, a friendship that dates back decades. In the late 1990s as the chief of Hachette Filipacchi Media, Pecker published Trump Style, a quarterly magazine available compliments of the house to guests at Trump’s properties. He supported Trump’s inaugural bid for president in 2000. He also had been a (paying?) regular at the Donald’s infamous Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach, Florida for years.

In August of 2015 shortly after Trump announced, it was Pecker who offered to help Cohen find damaging accounts of the soon-to-be president’s extra-marital relationships and other dubious behavior(s) and buy them so as to quash them. Former Enquirer employees confirmed to the Associated Press that negative stories about Trump had been classified as D.O.A. for more than a decade when he hosted the NBC reality show “The Apprentice.”

According to the AP, the Enquirer “kept a safe containing documents on hush-money payments” and other potentially incendiary stories it extinguished as part of its buddy-buddy relationship with Trump. These documents were stored as part of a “catch-and-kill” operation — not an uncommon tabloid-world practice — in which the exclusive rights to explosive claims are bought by those who have no intention, for whatever reasons, of ever publishing them.

Pecker then proceeded to turn on Cohen, contributing mightily to the case against him which resulted in the president’s former lawyer pleading guilty in the third week of August to eight criminal charges including tax fraud, false statements to a bank and campaign-finance violations related to the payoffs. (WSJ,CNN and Vanity Fair).

Cohen’s stunning admission effectively made Trump an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal crime. His sentencing date is set for December 12th and Michael Cohen, the president’s fixer and former personal attorney, is looking at up to 65 years in prison.

“David thought Donald walked on water,” commented a former Enquirer employee. “…Donald liked being flattered, and David thought Donald was the king. Both have similar management styles, similar attitudes, starting with absolute superiority over anybody else.”

In July 2013 Trump tweeted that Pecker should become C.E.O. of Time magazine, proclaiming inanely, “He’d make it exciting and win awards! David would be a brilliant choice as C.E.O. of Time.”

And last summer Pecker reportedly brought Kacy Grine, a French businessman who acts as an intermediary between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Western businesses, to the Oval Office to meet with Trump. He was wooing Saudi business on behalf of A.M.I. and needed the support of a powerful friend. (A.M.I. would later publish a glossy magazine extolling the magnificence of Saudi Arabia and the greatness of its autocratic rulers).

Which is yet another reason why Pecker’s decision to corroborate Cohen’s account and implicate Trump in a federal crime rattled plenty of cages.

It represented a graphic example of the isolation beginning to envelop Trump and perhaps swallow him whole as the walls close in and his former friends, confidantes, aides and allies jump ship. (See of late former White House counsel Don McGahn and anonymous NYT Op-Ed account of White House inner sanctum workings).

Is it any wonder then that one of Trump’s remaining loyalists and a credible confidante incredulously remarked, “Holy shit, I thought Pecker would be the last one to turn.”? Pecker and Trump have not spoken in more than eight months.

[Incidentally, Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis has intimated that his client is willing to share other damaging information with Robert Mueller, including the claim that Trump had foreknowledge of Russia’s hacking of Hillary Clinton’s emails and that he had discussed the release of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails on the weekend when the contemptible Access Hollywood tape dominated the news cycle].

His insatiable thirst for power and the powerful aside, Pecker’s taste in and choice of cronies has been open to question right along. Onetime Wenner Media executive Kent Brownridge described his operating philosophy this way: “If you’re big and important and get media attention, and there’s a way to leverage that, David will be your friend.”

Salesmanship? Business savvy? Fearlessness? Bravado? Swagger? Greed? Ego? Cut from the same cloth and as obsessed with celebrity as his former pal, Pecker has chosen to save his own behind at the expense of his long and storied friendship with Trump.

The prospect of jail time has a way of dulling adoration and tamping down “sycophantic fervor.” On August 28th. Pecker resigned from the board of Canadian media giant Postmedia, “effective immediately.” Another pin has fallen and a most unlikely one at that.

Dominoes.

Chances are David Pecker won’t be the last turncoat. The game is still on.

Who’s next?

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written in the Fall of 2018.]

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