On Friday morning, the New Yorker broke a detailed account of an alleged affair between Donald Trump and 1998 Playboy “Playmate of the Year” Karen McDougal, which began in 2006 and lasted nine months — when Trump had been married to Melania for not even two years and the couple’s son Barron was just a few months old. The story was reported by Ronan Farrow, who previously blew up the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
As in the case of adult film star Stormy Daniels, McDougal signed away the rights to her story — in her case, to American Media, Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer — to the tune of $150,000. The National Enquirer never ran the story however, in an industry practice called “catch and kill,” in which tabloids will pay a large sum of money for a story only to kill it. This is also a frequent tactic of A.M.I. C.E.O. and chairman David Pecker, who considers Trump to be a “personal friend” and never runs a story without his approval.
Before signing away her rights however, McDougal penned an eight-page, detailed handwritten account of the affair which was provided to the New Yorker by her friend John Crawford.
The damning parts of McDougal’s account is how strikingly similar her story is to that of Daniels, who is said to have carried out an affair with Trump around the same time. In fact, Trump even allegedly flew McDougal out to the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe, where he ended up meeting Daniels. McDougal claimed that she had sex with Trump during that event, and as with Daniels, he did not wear a condom in that encounter or ever, for that matter.
Likewise, as with Daniels, McDougal recounted that Trump was careful never to leave a paper trail, having his then-bodyguard Keith Schiller (now director of Oval Office Operations and deputy assistant to the president) escort her to their dates, typically at a private bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Daniels told In Touch Weekly in 2011 that she had also been summoned to meet with Trump.
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” alleged that Trump assaulted her at a private dinner meeting, in December of 2007, at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Trump, Zervos has claimed, kissed her, groped her breast, and suggested that they lie down to “watch some telly-telly.” After Zervos rebuffed Trump’s advances, she said that he “began thrusting his genitals” against her. (Zervos recently sued Trump for defamation after he denied her account.) All three women say that they were escorted to a bungalow at the hotel by a Trump bodyguard, whom two of the women have identified as Keith Schiller. After Trump was elected, Schiller was appointed director of Oval Office Operations and deputy assistant to the President. Last September, John Kelly, acting as the new chief of staff, removed Schiller from the White House posts. (Schiller did not respond to a request for comment.)
McDougal did speak with Farrow for the story on the contingency that she was allowed to respond to media requests, even though she still fears that A.M.I. will retaliate and seek financial damages for breaking a clause of her contract.
But she said that changes in her life and the emergence of the #MeToo moment had prompted her to speak. In January, 2017, McDougal had her breast implants removed, citing declining health that she believed to be connected to the implants. McDougal said that confronting illness, and embracing a cause she wanted to speak about, made her feel increasingly conflicted about the moral compromises of silence. “As I was sick and feeling like I was dying and bedridden, all I could do was pray to live. But now I pray to live right, and make right with the wrongs that I have done,” she told me. McDougal also cited the actions of women who have come forward in recent months to describe abuses by high-profile men. “I know it’s a different circumstance,” she said, “but I just think I feel braver.” McDougal told me that she hoped speaking out might convince others to wait before signing agreements like hers. “Every girl who speaks,” she said, “is paving the way for another.”
Farrow stopped by Good Morning America on Friday morning to discuss the story, where he pointed out that the “underlying chronicle of the affair reveals a lot of important patterns that we’re now seeing in multiple accounts of either consensual affairs, or non-consensual activity with Trump.”
“She feels that she was trapped into an exploitative contract that bound her to silence, and that’s something she finds very frustrating,” Farrow said, of the $150,000 windfall McDougal received to not tell her story. The Wall Street Journal reported just four days before the 2016 election that A.M.I. had purchased the rights to kill McDougal’s story, but of course, we all know how that turned out.