Citing free-speech grounds, the owners of the National Enquirer filed court papers Monday seeking dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a former Playboy centerfold who alleges she had an affair with President Trump more than a decade ago.
Karen McDougal sued American Media Inc. on March 20, contending she was misled into signing a 2016 agreement with the company, which is controlled by David Pecker, a friend and supporter of Trump. The lawsuit contends that AMI paid McDougal $150,000 for exclusive rights to her story for the purpose of keeping it out of the public eye — a practice known as “catch and kill” — to protect Trump.
In papers filed Monday, AMI contends the company never muzzled McDougal.
“In reality, it is McDougal’s lawsuit that targets AMI’s First Amendment rights by advancing the novel and radical proposition that once a media company has a story about a candidate, it must publish that story or else be in violation of election law,” according to AMI’s court papers, which were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
There was no fraud in the execution of an agreement between McDougal and AMI, according to AMI’s court papers. In addition, McDougal ratified the agreement between herself and AMI and waived any claim of fraud associated with the agreement, according to AMI’s court papers.
Two days after filing her lawsuit, McDougal sat for a one-hour interview with CNN, during which she talked about her alleged affair with President Trump and “bashed AMI before millions of viewers,” the AMI court papers state.
McDougal even boasted at the end of the interview that now, “people know my truth,” according to the court papers.
Peter Stris, McDougal’s attorney, released a statement regarding the AMI filing:
“The irony of today’s motion by American Media Inc. to strike Karen McDougal’s lawsuit is unmistakable,” Stris said. “As we have learned through brave truth-tellers like Ms. McDougal, the tabloid went to great lengths to silence her and others, and they are now attempting to silence her again with the absurd claim that their own free speech was violated. Needless to say, we look forward to opposing their motion.”
A hearing on AMI’s dismissal motion is scheduled April 30 before Judge Michael Stern.
When the suit was filed, McDougal said AMI “lied to me, made empty promises and repeatedly intimidated and manipulated me.”
“I just want the want the opportunity to set the record straight and move on with my life, free from this company, its executives and its lawyers,” she said.
According to her lawsuit, McDougal had a 10-month relationship with Trump in 2006-07.
Last month, AMI officials told The New York Times — which broke the story of McDougal’s lawsuit — that they initially chose not to print her story when they first learned of her allegations last year because the company could not verify important details.
But when she began considering an interview with ABC News, AMI returned to her with the $150,000 payment for the purpose of buying her story, “but it would not publish the story” because of Pecker’s relationship with Trump, according to McDougal’s lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that McDougal was “duped” by her then-lawyer, Keith Davidson, into signing the agreement, and there was no guarantee that AMI would ever publish any of her columns.
“AMI and Mr. Davidson also failed to mention that they were secretly negotiating deals with other women to kill negative stories for Mr. Trump,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit contends that AMI amended the agreement in late 2016 allowing McDougal to respond to “legitimate press inquiries” about her relationship with Trump, but that maneuver turned out to be another effort to “suppress” her story. AMI instead hired a public-relations firm to assist McDougal with media inquiries.
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