V/ No Stone Left Unturned

With Michael Cohen headed to the Big House and Roger Stone now in cuffs, we thought it was high time we revisited our series on the National Enquirer to catch up with some of our old favourites and see how they’re all getting on. Here’s three more tales of tawdry tabloid gossip that have somehow turned into internationally significant affairs…

It’s been 18 months since we first published our four-part series on the National Enquirer and there’s barely been a week that’s gone by in which we haven’t had cause to refer back to it.

Whether it was because a former Playboy playmate broke her NDA to reveal an affair she’d had with the President, or because the company’s top executives had to cut immunity deals with federal investigators, or because the President’s personal lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison for facilitating illegal hush money payments through their sketchy little media empire, the Enquirer has been pretty big news these last few months.

Now, with the arrest of Roger Stone, and the drip-drip testimony that’s still being squeezed out of Michael Cohen, we’ve come to realise that there were a few strands that got sidelined when we first sat down to write this story. At the time they didn’t seem hugely pertinent but, in light of the events that have unfolded in recent days, we thought we’d maybe revisit them.

Each of these strand sits on the original Enquirer timeline somewhere between Part Three and Part Four, but they also stand alone as self-contained tales in their own right.

They are:
1/ Omarosa And The Funeral Invasion
2/ Donald Trump Meets The Press
3/ The Swinging Shame Of Roger Stone

1/ Omarosa And The Funeral Invasion

In August 2018, Donald Trump’s longtime lawyer, confidante and ‘fixer’, Michael Cohen, plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violation. In front of a judge, he admitted to arranging six-figure payments to two different women during the 2016 campaign, both of whom had stories to tell about the extramarital affairs they’d had with Trump in the mid-00s.

One of those women was Stormy Daniels. The other was Karen McDougal.

We discussed the story of Karen McDougal back in Part Three, mapping out exactly how AMI boss David Pecker was able to use the sprawling corporate architecture of American Media, Inc. to guarantee McDougal’s silence on the matter and cover his tracks to avoid attracting any immediate suspicion.

When the rogue $150,000 payment that had been made to the former Playboy playmate did eventually crop up on reporters’ radars, Pecker explained it away by saying that it was simply a payroll expense. It was two years’ upfront salary for a job he had given McDougal, in which she would be posing as a model on the front pages of AMI’s fitness titles, like Muscle & Fitness; and also writing columns for their other general interest titles, like OK! and Radar.

We now know this isn’t true. McDougal was paid that $150,000 in order to keep quiet about the affair she had had with Trump in 2006/7, mere months after Melania had given birth to Barron. The work was just for appearances’ sake. She appeared on a single cover of Muscle & Fitness: Hers and her ‘regular’ columns dried up long before the two year contract was supposedly complete.

Given that Michael Cohen has gone to jail for his part in overseeing this plan, and David Pecker (along with his right-hand-man Dylan Howard) had to cut an immunity deal to avoid the same fate, the extent to which this little wheeze of theirs backfired is pretty remarkable.

Obviously as Trump’s personal goon, Cohen had little choice but to go along with it. But why, you may be thinking, would Pecker and Howard put themselves in such a dangerous position? It’s an extraordinary amount of risk to go to help out a pal, no matter how much you like them.

The decision makes a lot more sense when you realise that it wasn’t a favour they were doing for Trump. It was payback.

Payback for a favour that Trump had done them five years earlier regarding his reality star protégé, Omarosa Manigault.

We’ve had cause to tell the genesis story of Omarosa Manigault before, as part of our other long series (on the Hollywood Writers’ Strikes). To briefly recap the major plot points though:

Omarosa was one of the biggest breakout stars of American reality television, first gaining notoriety as shit-stirrer extraordinaire in the civilian version of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. A natural on camera, producers quickly snapped her up to make appearances on a raft of other reality shows such as Fear Factor, The Surreal Life and the Flavor Flav-based dating show, Flavor Of Love.

When The Celebrity Apprentice reboot was announced in 2008, Omarosa was brought back for its debut series – a booking that formally marked her graduation from citizen to full-fledged celebrity.

She made for great ratings so Donald Trump loved her. He loved her so much that he even created her very own spin-off series in 2010 – The Ultimate Merger.

Her celebrity career and public profile was going from strength to strength but, in October 2011, tragedy struck. Omarosa’s brother, Jack Manigault, was murdered. Shot in a fit of jealousy during a break-in by one of his girlfriend’s exes, his death hit the family hard. This was the second relative that Omarosa had lost to murder – her father having been killed when she was just seven.

Because of her rising public profile, Jack Manigault’s murder became big news, making headlines all over the place. But where most publications were content to report the basic details of the incident, the National Enquirer decided to go that little bit further. They sent an undercover reporter to the funeral to pose as a mourner, speak with the grieving family members, then write those private conversations up as copy and publish it all as an “exclusive interview”.

Omarosa, understandably, was absolutely fucking furious when she found out about this and immediately threatened to sue AMI.

The prospect of a big legal fight clearly rattled David Pecker, so he put in a call to his old friend Trump to see if there was anything The Donald could do to help talk his golden girl back from the edge.

And would you believe it? There was. In exchange for dropping her lawsuit, Trump was able to broker her a lucrative new job within the blossoming editorial apparatus of his friend’s media company, American Media, Inc.

The details surrounding that deal were ironed out with astonishing swiftness and, in January 2012 – just months after one of their reporters had illicitly invaded her recently murdered brother’s funeral – Omarosa Manigault was brought aboard the good ship AMI as West Coast Editor of their freshly launched magazine and website: Reality Weekly.

Sadly, Reality Weekly only got to enjoy the benefit of her editorial expertise for a few months as the website stopped being updated in July the same year and the print edition of the magazine folded shortly after too – but Omarosa was paid handsomely for her efforts, and no further action was brought against AMI for the intrusion.

The whole situation worked itself out so perfectly, that it’s no surprise that the exact same plan would spring to mind a few years later when Trump found himself with a couple of women he needed silencing too…

2/ Donald Trump Meets The Press

One of the other things that Michael Cohen has confessed to since turning stoolie is that, in 2015, on the direct orders of his former boss, he paid a tech company to rig a series of online polls in Donald Trump’s favour to generate some early positive headlines and make him seem like a more plausible candidate for high office.

As part of the same purchase, he also paid the company to set up a bespoke Twitter account called @WomenForCohen, which would post regular tweets dedicated to sparking some online buzz about what a dreamy hunk Cohen was – a detail that is so delightfully pathetic we’re genuinely tempted to stop the story right there.

However, we should expand on the poll-rigging detail Cohen let slip because it’s not the first time Donald Trump has tried to do this sort of thing. In fact, if you’ve read Part Four of our National Enquirer series, you’ll know he’s done it at least once before.

In 1999, when he tried to run for President the first time around.

Perhaps you’ve seen this interview, conducted when Trump was standing for nomination on the Reform Party ticket in the 2000 election against George W Bush and Al Gore?

If it looks familiar, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen the bit of it where he talks about how he’d deal with North Korea if he was to become president. That particular clip resurfaced some time last year, not long after Trump announced his intention to hold a summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – as, 20 years previously, he had compared negotiating with North Korea to negotiating with a mugger.

There’s another interesting segment of that same interview though, and it’s very close to the start.

The interviewer, Tim Russert, kicked things off on a relatively light note by asking Trump if he was really serious about running for office, or if it was just a big PR ploy to get himself some free publicity. The question was tossed to as a bit of a softball to get things rolling – and Trump was adequately prepared to address it.

The reason he was so prepared was that he had a little ace up his sleeve.

When Russert told him that two recent polls showed that 73% and 77% of Americans said they would not vote for Donald Trump to become president, Trump rebutted this by presenting another poll he had seen which had him neck-and-neck with George Bush and absolutely creaming Al Gore.

The esteemed periodical that conducted and carried it? The National Enquirer.

But it’s the bit directly before he reveals the existence of that Enquirer poll that caused our ears to perk up. The bit where Trump goes off on one of his trademark tangents to explain how easy it would be for him to rig something like that.

He was speaking in 1999 there, a time before the internet was a particularly dominant force in opinion polling, so he wasn’t talking about paying a tech firm to help tip the scales. Back then, you had to rig things the old-fashioned way.

He’d need an inside man at the Enquirer to help him. Coincidentally, 1999 just so happened to be the same year that Donald Trump’s good friend and associate David Pecker (the former publisher of the Trump Organization’s in-house vanity magazine, Trump Style, no less) took over as the Chairman and CEO of the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, Inc.

What an incredible stroke of luck!

We also mentioned in Part Four that American Media, Inc. continually conducts extensive research into its readers and their interests. Their audience outreach is exhaustive. It is what drives their editorial stance and the Enquirer‘s entire business model depends on it.

In fact, the key to understanding the Enquirer‘s peculiar and often counterintuitive political coverage is that is written – pretty much to order – by this very reader feedback. The pro-Trump coverage that seemed so prescient in the 2016 election wasn’t handed down from the management, as most commentators imagined it had been. It actually came from the readers, up.

As they had such robust audience outreach tools, all the Enquirer had to do in 1999 was drum up 37 readers who were happy to give Donald Trump their vote in a hypothetical election. As AMI’s offices are a stone’s throw from Mar-A-Lago in Florida (a state, rather famously, that had a bit of difficulty choosing between George Bush and Al Gore), getting a handful of nearby Floridians who’d prefer to vote for the fancy-pants billionaire third-party candidate who was always talking up their state wasn’t exactly a backbreaking task.

And, boom. There it is. 37 people in the right place at the right time and that’s enough to launch a national campaign.

But this poll-rigging scheme wasn’t whipped up by Donald Trump and David Pecker alone. There was a third man involved. A man whose ties to the Enquirer pre-dated the both of them.

Roger Stone.

3/ The Swinging Shame Of Roger Stone

Despite having been comfortably dead for thirty years before the 2016 election, one of the men most responsible for the election of Donald J Trump is Roy Cohn.

Cohn (who is the focus of Part Two of our series) was not only a founding investor of the National Enquirer, he’s also the lynchpin that connects practically every single friendship and allegiance in this story – linking up the New York Mafia to the Washington Elite right throughto the Tabloid Triangle of Florida.

Arguably the most significant connection he ever forged in his long, inglorious career though was the one between Roger Stone and Donald Trump.

Stone pridefully bills himself as the ‘Ratfucker of American Politics’ (or ‘Dirty Trickster’ if kids and clergy are present). He was living in Roy Cohn’s Manhattan townhouse when he was first introduced to Trump in 1979. Stone had moved in with Cohn while the pair of them worked on Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. Trump , meanwhile, had had cause to employ Cohn’s services as a lawyer in order to countersue the Justice Department, who had come after him for his company’s discriminatory leasing practices.

Ever since the two of them met at Cohn’s insistence, Stone has spent a great deal of his time trying to convince Trump to run for office.

It doesn’t take too much digging to uncover evidence that Stone was the likely mastermind behind the spurious Enquirer poll that kickstarted the chat about Trump’s viability as a third party candidate in 1999.But that poll came at a very curious time in Stone’s relationship with the magazine because, three years previously, in the throes of the 1996 presidential election, the National Enquirer ran a huge, embarrassing scoop that forced Roger Stone to resign in disgrace from his job, as a senior advisor to Bob Dole’s presidential campaign.

It was peculiar timing, and it prompts two major questions.

First: why would a magazine that has a well-documented history of burying bad news stories for its friends and associates (a habit which started back when the Mafia was bankrolling its production in the 1950s, and has continued right up to the present day) suddenly turn so viciously on an ally like Roger Stone?

Second: why would Roger Stone, a man who has gone to such extraordinary lengths to obliterate his other enemies, let such a seismic humiliation slide and start working happily with the Enquirer again so soon after they got him shitcanned from his job?

It makes no sense. Roger Stone has been a member of the National Enquirer‘s inner circle for 40 years, so what could possibly explain that strange blip in their relations in 1996?

We can’t know this for sure of course, because even someone as loose-lipped as Roger Stone wouldn’t reveal secrets like this, but here’s a theory to consider.

In 1996, Stone found himself working, at the behest of the Republican Party, helping to elect their chosen candidate Bob Dole to the White House – but Stone wasn’t having a great deal of success.

Dole was a 73 year old conservative. he was the oldest man to make a first-time run for president and he was struggling to connect with large swathes of the electorate. Bill Clinton, on the other hand, was young and yet to be engulfed by scandal. The economy was doing well under his administration and the public didn’t seem inclined to dislodge the incumbent. But Dole’s biggest problem was his habit of making awful unforced errors.

Two of Dole’s most memorable clangers happened on a single day: September 18th. That was the day when he tried to make a cool, hip joke about baseball (referencing a team that had ceased to exist 38 years previously) before falling clean off the front of the stage at one of his own campaign events.

You didn’t need Roger Stone’s political mind to see that the writing was clearly on the wall for Dole at this point, but Stone himself was becoming increasingly concerned about the hit that his own reputation would take as a Republican kingmaker were he too closely associated with Dole when the whole thing went down in flames.

Stone’s options were limited. He couldn’t very well step down from the Dole campaign citing a lack of faith in the candidate. This would be a fatal blow to the campaign’s credibility, practically guaranteeing the presidency stayed in Democratic hands for another four years.

He couldn’t very well step down and give no reason either. That would only invite worse speculation.

The prospect of staying on and having to bear some responsibility for the defeat that was so clearly in store for Dole was the least appealing option of all though.

So what did he do?

Well, you may not believe this, but the strangest thing happened. The very next week – just six days after Dole had fallen flatter than his bad baseball joke – the National Enquirer ran a front cover story about Roger Stone and his sexual proclivities that was so explosive it would force him to resign.

The Enquirer‘s September 24th issue outed Stone and his wife as swingers, a pair of sex mad maniacs who regularly frequented sex clubs and posted ads for experimental partners through well-known adult agencies. But it wasn’t just the Enquirer. Another magazine ran it too. Coincidentally, the only other magazine that the fledging company American Media Inc had – at the time – added to its roster.

In an eerie foreshadowing of the tactics that AMI would later use in the 2016 election – spreading the same damaging story across multiple titles of theirs for maximum impact – the very same story ran in Star magazine too.

Naturally Roger Stone couldn’t expect a wholesome, decent, Republican American candidate for president like Bob Dole to endorse this sort of lifestyle, and he didn’t want to tarnish Dole’s reputation by association. So, after some initial fightback in which he tried to pin the whole thing on an anonymous, drug-addled intern who he claimed was trying to frame him, Roger Stone solemnly announced that he would be resigning from the Dole campaign so as to not cause the candidate any further embarrassment.

Stone slipped loose of the shackles and, six weeks later, Clinton stormed to victory – more than 8,000,000 votes clear of Dole.

That a publication would run a such a humiliating story on someone who once counted its founding investor as a close personal friend is one thing, but to run it just days after this same guy’s deadweight candidate made two of his biggest howlers on the trail, ousting him out of his high-powered job six weeks before the election that they subsequently lost?

You’d think a double-crossing like this would be the type of thing a Machiavellian, scheming sort wouldn’t soon forget. Yet, here was Roger Stone working closely alongside Trump and the National Enquirer at the very next election, as if it was all water under the bridge.

Stone has since admitted – contrary to his assertions at the time – that the swingers ads were actually genuine, and not the work of a disgruntled, drug-addled staffer trying to frame him. He and his wife Nydia were active members of the swinging scene.

This confession does cast a little bit of doubt on how the information ended up in the hands of the Enquirer in the first place though. If it wasn’t an anonymous staffer, then who dobbed him in?

Could it be that Roger Stone was the source?

It would make a certain sort of sense. It provided a very simple way out of an otherwise unwinnable situation for him – affording him an escape from the doomed Dole campaign without landing the deadly blow on Dole himself.

It’s not as if Stone had a squeaky clean reputation he was anxious to protect either. If anything, the tale that Beltway insiders would be told about this whole fiasco (that Stone deliberately leaked a huge tabloid story about himself swinging just to be shot of that no-hoper Dole) it would only help to boost his stock as DC’s premier master of the dark arts.

It would also explain why he has continued to work so keenly alongside the Enquirer for the subsequent 20 years. They were actually doing him a massive favour.

Still, Roger Stone isn’t currently out on $250,000 bail because he may or may not have tipped the Enquirer off to the fact he and his wife like to fuck. Nor is his method of extraction from the Bob Dole campaign is of much interest to Robert Mueller. He’s up on other business this time.

Can Stone somehow manage to slip the noose again? Only he’ll know what plans he’s got in mind – but it’ll be worth keeping an eye on the Enquirer. Who knows what they’ll have to say about it…