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New Yorker investigation into Trump affair finds system of ‘silencing women’

According to The New Yorker, former Playboy model Karen McDougal alleges she had an affair with President Trump more than a decade ago, resulting in extensive efforts to keep the story out of the press through payouts and contracts. Judy Woodruff breaks down the story with journalist Ronan Farrow, who helped break some of the revelations of sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to President Trump and a new story "The New Yorker" magazine published this morning. It details a Playboy model's allegation that she and Mr. Trump had an extramarital affair more than a decade ago. It also highlights extensive efforts, including contracts and payments, to keep stories out of the press.

    Ronan Farrow wrote the story. And he joins me again from New York.

    Ronan, welcome back to the program.

  • Ronan Farrow:

    Good to be here, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There have been allegations out — thank you.

    There have been allegations out there about the president. He has denied all of them. How is your reporting different?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    You know, I think that this is important on two levels.

    One is that there is now a proliferation of stories, Judy, and between them commonalities, shared locations, shared tactics. Karen McDougal, the individual described in this story, in her chronicle of this affair, talks about being offered money, something that appears in numerous stories, that after sex she was offered a payment, and declined that.

    She talks about the same locations that a lot of these affairs took place in. She talked about, in fact, some of that sexual activity taking place at shared events between her story and, for instance, the account of Stormy Daniels.

    So, this provides corroboration for a number of these stories. But more important is the factor that you mentioned earlier, which is that this is also about a system that was in place, Judy, a way of silencing women through trusted intermediaries in the tabloid world, these secret payouts, and secret meetings enforced by bodyguards.

    This was a well-oiled machine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And explain how that works.

    And it stems, in part from the friendship, the close friendship, the president has with a man named David Pecker, who is the head of a media organization that owns "The National Enquirer," is that right?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    There is a term in the tabloid industry called catch and kill, which is where a company like AMI, this tabloid media company that you just referred to, acquires a story with the intention to bury it, not to run it.

    Now, it's important to note AMI had ample opportunity to comment on the story, and has said: We didn't run the story after acquiring the rights to it because we didn't find it credible.

    But the accounts of numerous former AMI employees contradict that. They say that was a regular used by David Pecker, the head of that organization that you just mentioned, and that, in this case, it was used to the benefit of his friend Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's pretty clear that they didn't want this accomplished. And I assume they were contacting you, doing whatever they could to prevent you from writing about it?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    You know, I will refer you to what we report in the piece, you know, which certainly does suggest that they take a different view of events from the one that we report.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So why is Karen McDougal, the woman you talked about, why is she talking now?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    You know, she remains terrified of legal retaliation.

    She was very careful about what she said. Her present-day on-the-record comments are largely about the business relationship with AMI, because she is still afraid to talk about the underlying affair. She said, I don't know exactly what I can and can't say.

    There is a clause in this contract that could force her into a secret arbitration process, which she was very frightened of. But she said that, over the past year, she's witnessed woman after woman come forward to describe ways in which powerful men silence women with stories about them, that while she was describing a consensual affair, she was inspired by those women to come forward to illustrate the cost of silence and perhaps inspire others to speak.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And where do you think this goes from here?

  • Ronan Farrow:

    I have been asked often, does a story like this have any chance of moving the needle, since we seem to be inundated with stories of is this kind, of scandal, you know, that have shaken, I think, people's confidence in a lot of institutions.

    It's not my job to say whether a story like this is capable of moving the needle, but I can certainly say that that last message from Karen McDougal, that signing up for silence in this way and assisting in hiding a story like this before an election can weigh heavily after the fact.

    And I certainly hope that other women, faced with that decision — and we know now that there were others after the Stormy Daniels revelations — you know, weigh that lesson carefully.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Certainly a lot of detail here.

    And, Ronan Farrow, we thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Ronan Farrow:

    Thank you, Judy.

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