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Tabloid firm bought, then buried, doorman's story about rumored Trump affair and baby, reports say

Tabloid firm bought, then buried, doorman's story about rumored Trump affair and baby, reports say
President Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen in New York City on Wednesday. Cohen's office, home and hotel room were raided by federal agents on Monday. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

The National Enquirer's parent company paid a Manhattan doorman $30,000 for a story it never published alleging that Donald Trump secretly fathered a child, according to news reports.

Former doorman Dino Sajudin told the story to the National Enquirer in late 2015, when Trump was the top contender for the Republican presidential nomination, the Associated Press and the New Yorker reported early Thursday.

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Sajudin, who worked at Trump World Tower near the United Nations headquarters, told the National Enquirer that he'd heard from co-workers that Trump had "knocked up" one of his employees, who gave birth to a girl, according to documents posted on the website of Radar Online, a sister publication of the National Enquirer.

The supermarket tabloid requested a polygraph exam, and the examiner concluded that Sajudin was telling the truth about hearing the story, the documents say.

Four unnamed National Enquirer employees told AP that top editors, despite the polygraph results, ordered them to stop reporting the story.

Sajudin signed a contract with the tabloid's parent company, American Media Inc., led by President Trump's close friend David Pecker. Sajudin, who received the $30,000 in return for giving American Media exclusive rights to the story, agreed to pay a $1-million penalty if he failed to keep quiet, according to the AP and the New Yorker.

"I can confirm that while working at Trump World Tower, I was instructed not to criticize President Trump's former housekeeper due to a prior relationship she had with President Trump which produced a child," Sajudin told CNN on Thursday.

It is the second known case of American Media spending money in a way that protected Trump from a potentially harmful story during the 2016 presidential race — a practice known in the tabloid gossip world as "catch and kill."

Days after Trump won his party's presidential nomination, American Media paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for exclusive rights to her story of a nine-month affair with Trump, but never published it.

McDougal is suing to void the deal, alleging that her attorney was secretly colluding with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

The FBI raided Cohen's office, home and hotel room this week under search warrants reportedly seeking records on McDougal's nondisclosure deal with American Media.

The search warrant also reportedly sought records on a separate confidentiality agreement that Cohen reached in October 2016 with porn star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. He set up a shell company that paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about Trump's alleged 2006 sexual encounter with her.

It's unclear what crimes federal authorities suspect were committed. But McDougal's lawsuit charges that American Media's $150,000 payment to her was an illegal secret donation that federal election law required the Trump campaign to publicly disclose.

Common Cause, a nonpartisan ethics group, has filed complaints with the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission alleging that the payments to McDougal and Daniels were illegal campaign contributions.

On Thursday, Common Cause submitted new complaints alleging the payment to Sajudin, too, was an unlawful attempt to influence the 2016 election by protecting Trump's candidacy from bad publicity.

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"Secret payments to hide affairs may have been commonplace in the president's previous life as a tabloid figure, but when he became a candidate for the presidency, any new payments to safeguard his candidacy became violations of federal law," said Paul S. Ryan, the vice president for policy and litigation at Common Cause.

Cohen acknowledged that he discussed Sajudin's story with the National Enquirer when it was reporting on the allegations, but denied knowing in advance that the tabloid paid the former doorman $30,000, the AP reported.

Neither the AP nor the New Yorker named the woman who was alleged to have had Trump's child about 30 years ago.

The documents posted by Radar Online indicate that the National Enquirer found in late 2015 that the woman was then living in Queens, and her daughter in Northern California.

Radar Online reported that despite the polygraph results, National Enquirer editors concluded after four weeks of investigating, that Sajudin's story was false.

"When we realized we would be unable to publish, and other media outlets approached the source about his tale, we released Sajudin from the exclusivity clause that had accompanied his $30,000 payment, freeing him to tell his story to whomever he wanted," Dylan Howard, the chief content officer at American Media, told Radar Online.

American Media, or AMI, led by longtime Trump friend Pecker, released a statement denying that Cohen or Trump had anything to do with its decision "not to pursue a story about a 'love child' that it determined was not credible."

"The suggestion that David Pecker has ever used company funds to 'shut down' this or any investigation is not true," the statement said. "In addition, AMI and Mr. Pecker emphatically deny any suggestion that there might have been be any 'partnership' created which might influence any business ties in regard to AMI. These claims are reckless, unsubstantiated, and false."

The statement also quoted Howard defending the decision to not publish a story.

"Paying for information has long been a practice of The National Enquirer and to suggest that it has only paid for, and not run, stories about any particular person is absurd," he said.

The former National Enquirer employees told the AP that the tabloid failed to pursue its standard reporting practices for proving paternity, such as exhaustive stakeouts.

In 2007, when the National Enquirer disclosed that Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards had fathered a child with a mistress, it did so in part by rummaging through a dumpster for material to use in a DNA test. Months later, Edwards admitted the story was true.

Edwards, a former U.S. senator from North Carolina, was tried on federal charges of using campaign money to hide the pregnant mistress from voters during the campaign. The case ended in an acquittal on one charge and a mistrial on five others.

Twitter: @finneganLAT

UPDATES:

6 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from American Media Inc.

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1:30 p.m.: This article was updated with Sajudin's statement to CNN and background on John Edwards.

12:20 p.m.: This article was updated with new Common Cause complaint.

This article was originally published at 10:55 a.m.

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