A former Playboy model who says she had an affair with President Trump has filed a lawsuit to break her confidentiality agreement, saying she was duped into it by a supermarket tabloid working to protect Trump.
Karen McDougal, Playboy’s 1998 Playmate of the Year, sued the parent company of the National Enquirer to extract herself from the nondisclosure pact.
The company, American Media Inc., or AMI, paid McDougal $150,000 in 2016 for the rights to her story about the alleged affair in a deal that bars her from sharing it elsewhere. AMI, led by a close friend of Trump’s, never published the story.
AMI worked secretly with Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to buy McDougal’s silence, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in state Superior Court in Los Angeles.
The suit says AMI has threatened McDougal, 46, with financial ruin if she talks with the news media.
“AMI lied to me, made empty promises, and repeatedly intimidated and manipulated me,” McDougal said in a written statement. “I just want the opportunity to set the record straight and move on with my life, free from this company, its executives and its lawyers.”
McDougal’s suit, first reported by the New York Times, offers lurid details of the normally hidden world of tabloid maneuvering over salacious celebrity stories.
Her lawsuit also added to Trump’s growing political troubles from his alleged extramarital affair with porn actress Stormy Daniels and a defamation lawsuit by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice” who says he sexually assaulted her at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Trump’s request to dismiss the Zervos suit was rejected Tuesday by a New York judge.
Cohen, who has long served as Trump’s fixer, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
McDougal, now an Arizona actress and fitness model, says she and Trump had a 10-month romance in 2006 and 2007, including a sexual encounter at the same Lake Tahoe golf event where he is accused of striking up his affair with Daniels.
McDougal’s suit says that Keith Davidson, the Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer who bargained with AMI on her behalf, was secretly colluding with Trump representatives during the 2016 campaign.
Davidson “assured her that the rights to publish her story were worth millions,” but was secretly advancing Trump’s interests while pretending to advocate on McDougal’s behalf, the complaint alleges.
Davidson introduced McDougal to AMI and falsely told her that the publisher had deposited $500,000 in an escrow account toward a seven-figure contract that never came to pass, the suit says.
McDougal says she met in Los Angeles with Dylan Howard, AMI’s chief content officer, and told him in a four-hour interview about her affair with Trump.
Afterward, Davidson told McDougal that AMI had no interest in purchasing her story, but failed to mention that he and AMI had relayed to Trump’s representatives the details she had shared.
McDougal turned to investigative journalists at ABC News, who signed a confidentiality agreement as they were preparing a report on the affair, the complaint says.
Davidson then told her that AMI wanted to buy the story after all, but would not publish it because the company’s owner, David Pecker, was a close personal friend of Trump.
McDougal went ahead and signed the confidentiality agreement with AMI. Davidson took a 45% cut of her $150,000 payment, the complaint says.
A Davidson spokesman released a statement saying, “Mr. Davidson fulfilled his obligations and zealously advocated for Ms. McDougal to accomplish her stated goals at that time.”
The suit accuses AMI of “catching and killing” unfavorable stories about Trump because of the president’s friendship with Pecker, the company’s chairman, president and chief executive.
AMI released a statement saying McDougal had been free to respond to media inquiries about Trump since 2016, so any suggestion it had tried to silence her was “completely without merit.”
“AMI has a valid contract with Ms. McDougal and we look forward to reaching an amicable resolution satisfactory to her and to AMI,” the statement said, making no reference to the part of the deal that gave AMI exclusive rights to her story of any sexual relationship “she has ever had with a then-married man.”
In February 2018, the New Yorker published excerpts from eight pages of McDougal’s handwritten notes recalling her alleged affair with Trump. AMI then “threatened her with lawsuits and financial ruin if she elected to break her silence,” the complaint says.
From Trump’s standpoint, one of the suit’s most troubling accusations is that the $150,000 payment to cover up the affair was illegally designed to influence the 2016 presidential election. It echoed allegations that it was an undisclosed, illegal corporate contribution to the Trump campaign — as outlined in complaints that ethics watchdog Common Cause has filed with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission.
Because the payment was part of an illegal scheme, McDougal says, her confidentiality agreement is invalid. AMI, the complaint alleges, is trying to use the agreement “to silence a person from publicly disclosing information that is critical of the president.”