NEW YORK (AP) — The supermarket tabloid under fire for paying hush money to a former Playboy model to help Donald Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign is on the auction block.
The parent of the National Enquirer said Wednesday that it is exploring a possible sale as part of a “strategic” review of its tabloid business. The decision by American Media comes after the tabloid said it paid $150,000 to keep Karen McDougal quiet about an alleged affair with Trump and being accused by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos of blackmail.
American Media said it was considering a sale so it could focus more on other parts of its business, including its teen brand and broadcast platforms.
“Because of this focus, we feel the future opportunities with the tabloids can be best exploited by a different ownership,” said American Media CEO David Pecker in a statement.
Pecker is a longtime Trump ally who helped bury potentially embarrassing stories about the future president over the years by paying hush money in a tabloid practice called “catch-and-kill.” The Associated Press reported last year that Pecker kept a safe that held documents on hush money payments and killed stories, including records on ones involving Trump.
In August, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan agreed not to prosecute American Media in exchange for the company’s cooperation in its investigation of campaign violations. That probe eventually led to a three-year prison term for Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen for campaign violations among other charges.
American Media came under fire this year from Amazon founder Bezos for what he said were threats to publish explicit photos of him following a January story on him that included lurid texts exchanged with his mistress, former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez.
Bezos said the tabloid promised not to publish the photos if he stopped his private investigators from trying to find out how the tabloid obtained the texts. Bezos took to social media to accuse the National Enquirer of blackmailing him.
An American Media attorney denied that the tabloid committed blackmail, but the attack from Bezos threatened potentially big legal costs and at a bad time for American Media. The company is struggling under a heavy debt load after years of borrowing to buy other publications.
The Bezos attack also threatened to upend American Media’s non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors. The Associated Press reported in February that prosecutors were looking into whether the publisher violated terms of the deal, which included a promise not to break any laws in the future.
American Media is controlled by its biggest investor, a hedge fund called Chatham Asset Management. A phone message seeking comment from Chatham was not immediately returned.
In addition to the National Enquirer, American Media said it was also considering selling two other brands, Globe and National Examiner.
American Media owns news, celebrity and sports publications such as Us Weekly, Star, OK!, In Touch, Life & Style, Men’s Journal, Muscle & Fitness, Snowboarder and Surfer.