Photo: AP

In a story that dropped late Friday night, the Wall Street Journal reports that a Playboy model who says she had an affair with Donald Trump got a $150,000 paycheck from the National Enquirer, which curiously sat on the story after buying it.

The Journal, citing documents and “people familiar with the matter,” reports that in August, the tabloid paid $150,000 to Karen McDougal, the 1998 Playmate of the Year who said she enjoyed a consensual relationship with Trump in 2006—a year after his wedding to his third and current wife, Melania.

The Journal categorizes the exchange as a “catch and kill,” where the tabloid bought her story to silence her. A source tells the Journal that despite paying out six figures for the story, the Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, “didn’t intend to run it.”

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The company confirmed in a statement to the Journal that the money was for the “exclusive life rights to any relationship she has had with a then-married man,” but it declined to identify the man and denied killing the story. The Journal filled in the blanks, identifying Trump as her partner.

In a written statement, the company said it wasn’t buying Ms. McDougal’s story for $150,000, but rather two years’ worth of her fitness columns and magazine covers as well as exclusive life rights to any relationship she has had with a then-married man. “AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr. Trump,” the statement said.

McDougal has not, since the August deal, done any fitness columns or magazine covers. The Journal also reports McDougal’s contract with the agent who represented her in the American Media deal specified that their business concerned “claims against Donald Trump and or assisting client in negotiating a confidentiality agreement and/or life rights related to interactions with Donald Trump and/or negotiating assignment of exclusive press opportunities regarding same.”

So why would the Enquirer not run the story when it bought it in August, or after the pussy-grabbing allegations, or now, when the election is less than a week away? A few motivations come to mind. For one thing, Trump and the Enquirer have long enjoyed a cozy relationship that may or may not have influenced the tabloid’s coverage of Ted Cruz’s alleged affairs, hard evidence of which was never reported. It’s also a nice way to curry favor with a potential president of the United States.

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And, not to be too cynical, it’s possible no one would care about allegations of Trump’s consensual adultery—12 women have accused him of sexual assault and he’s still in the race. If that were the case, though, it’s hard to see why the Enquirer would have paid $150,000 to lock up the rights to it, with a contract that, according to the Journal, requires McDougal to pay “damages of at least $150,000 if she discloses her story elsewhere on social media or gives interviews about it.” The company, the Journal reports, has no obligation to publish her story. Still, the Journal got some details about the alleged affair:

Ms. McDougal, who continued modeling after appearing in Playboy, told several of her friends she had a relationship for about 10 months with Mr. Trump, beginning in 2006 and lasting into 2007, according to people familiar with her account. Another friend told the Journal that Ms. McDougal’s relationship with Mr. Trump lasted about a year.

A friend of Ms. McDougal’s recalled attending the Miss Universe pageant at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles as a guest of Mr. Trump in 2006. Mr. Trump’s limousine picked up Ms. McDougal and her at Ms. McDougal’s Beverly Hills home, and the two women sat in the front row with Mr. Trump and music producers Quincy Jone sand David Foster. Mr. Trump escorted them home, the friend said.

The Journal’s conclusion that the Enquirer bought the story solely to silence the woman is more than just an allegation of an incestuous relationship between the nation’s most notorious tabloid and the presidential candidate who says he hates the media. It’s also a potential campaign law violation. Spending $150,000 to protect a presidential candidate from an embarrassing story could be construed to be an unreported in-kind campaign donation. At least, that’s the reasoning prosecutors used when they went after John Edwards for using money from his political supporters to pay off his then-pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter—a story the Enquirer broke.