April 20, 2024

On Tuesday, April 4, 2023, I was outside Manhattan criminal court. It was a sunny spring day, and the Secret Service and the Police Department had blocked off the streets with barricades. The sidewalks were clogged with news crews from around the world. Supporters of Donald Trump roamed a pen that was set up to house them. Eventually, the former president was rushed out of the courthouse after being charged by Alvin Bragg, the district attorney of Manhattan, with 34 counts of falsifying business records. His convoy departed to cheers from fans.

I pulled up the indictment and the statement of facts on my iPhone. At the center of the case is the accusation that Trump took part in a scheme to turn The National Enquirer and its sister publications into an arm of his 2016 presidential campaign. The documents detailed three “hush money” payments made to a series of individuals to guarantee their silence about potentially damaging stories in the months before the election. Because this was done with the goal of helping his election chances, the case implied, these payments amounted to a form of illegal, undisclosed campaign spending. And, Bragg argued, because Trump created paperwork to make the payments seem like regular legal expenses, that amounted to a criminal effort at a coverup. Trump has denied the charges against him.

The documents rattled off a number of seedy stories that would have been right at home in a venerable supermarket tabloid, had they actually been published. The subjects were anonymized but recognizable to anyone who had followed the story of Trump’s entanglement with The Enquirer. His affair with the porn star Stormy Daniels, of course, was the heart of it. There was also Karen McDougal, the Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1998, whose affair with Trump was similarly made to disappear, the payments for the rights to her story made to look like fees for writing a fitness column and appearing on magazine covers. (Trump has denied involvement with both women.) There were others that were lesser known, too, like Dino Sajudin, a former Trump World Tower doorman who claimed that Trump had a love child with one of the building’s employees; the story was never published, and Sajudin was paid $30,000 to keep quiet about it.

For me, reading the indictment was like stepping through the looking glass, because it described a three-year period in my own professional life, one that I have come to deeply regret. Dino the Doorman? During my time at American Media Inc. (A.M.I.), The Enquirer’s parent company, I was one of the editors pushing our reporters to confirm that story. McDougal’s fitness columns were published only after I instructed a colleague to work with the model to put them together. These were all pretty normal things to do during my time there, a life-changing detour in my career, which happened to coincide with a bizarre period at A.M.I., when it was allegedly enlisted — in some ways that I saw and in others that I didn’t — into the service of helping Trump become president. Now, as a former president faces a criminal trial for the first time in American history, I’m forced to grapple with what really happened at The Enquirer in those years — and whether and how I can ever set things right.

In a sense, it was Philip Seymour Hoffman who got me the job. In February 2014, while I was working at The New York Daily News, an editor there told me that Hoffman had been found dead in his West Village apartment. He asked for my help on the story. Our crime reporters tracked down the name of the person who found the body, David Bar Katz, a close friend of Hoffman’s and a playwright, but all our attempts to reach him had not borne fruit.

Soon, The National Enquirer hit newsstands with an “exclusive” interview with Katz. He said that he and Hoffman were “homosexual lovers” and that he watched Hoffman freebase cocaine the night before his death. The story quickly unraveled: The Enquirer had been talking to a David Katz, but this one was a freelance TV producer based in New Jersey. After being bombarded with calls from reporters — and consuming several beers, he later told The New York Post — he apparently decided to have some fun. The actual David Bar Katz sued A.M.I. for $50 million.

The magazine withdrew the story and settled out of court. In the end, The Enquirer took out a full-page ad in The New York Times acknowledging the error and paid Katz enough that he was able to establish an annual prize for playwrights in Hoffman’s honor. David Pecker, the chief executive of A.M.I., removed the top editor. In his place, Pecker pulled a young editor named Dylan Howard over from another A.M.I. publication, Radar Online.

Howard and I met a few years earlier in New York. He attended the same university I did in Melbourne, though we weren’t friends in Australia. Now, two Aussie journalists in New York, we swapped gossip and hit it off. I helped land him one of his biggest scoops; in 2010, I passed Charlie Sheen’s private cell number to him, and he figured out that texting Sheen when he was partying would get his attention. The two developed a rapport, and after a series of well-publicized meltdowns, Sheen invited Howard to Los Angeles to watch him take a drug test and reveal the results live on “Good Morning America.”

In March 2014, Howard and I started talking about the possibility of my coming to The Enquirer as his No.2. During a booze-fueled night at the Electric Room, a nightclub in the Meatpacking District, he walked me through the offer. A $60,000 bump in compensation — which worked out to a 75 percent raise. And I would be running a national news operation with the resources, he promised, to break agenda-setting stories.

I had never paid that much attention to the supermarket tabloids, but I knew enough to know what The Enquirer was. It published a sensational mix of celebrity scandal, true crime and “triumph over tragedy” real-life stories. It might not have been a respected newspaper, especially because of its tendency to print cover lines that stretched the truth to the breaking point. But it’s not as if it published stories about Bat Boy either. (That’s The Weekly World News.) The Enquirer’s reporters were fearless, and they did sometimes win the respect of the mainstream press. During the wrongful-death suit brought against O.J. Simpson by the parents of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, it was The Enquirer’s reporters who found photos of Simpson wearing Bruno Magli shoes, the same type that left prints in blood at the scene of the murders. The revelation helped a jury decide that Simpson could be held responsible for the deaths.

By the time I started, The Enquirer’s weekly newsstand-sales figures hovered around 360,000, down from a high of about four million in the 1990s. Still, even in recent years, The Enquirer had broken big stories. In fact, the tabloid most likely altered the course of the 2008 presidential election when it exposed John Edwards’s affair and love child with a campaign staff member. That investigation showed the muscle and drive of The Enquirer’s reporting. Stakeouts, door knocks, documents. Reporters flying across the country. Persisting until they got the story right. Howard told me that he wanted the magazine to land ambitious stories like that. “All things going well,” he texted me, a bit hyperbolically, “you and I will be youngest editors of a national US publication ever.”

I was agonizing over the offer when the editor in chief of The Daily News, Colin Myler, called me into his office. Myler presented me with a $10,000 raise and thanked me for my work. I thought he might have caught wind of the job offer, so I mentioned it to him. He said I would be making a big mistake if I went to work for David Pecker. Deep down, I was hoping Myler would make a counteroffer, but he didn’t. I took Howard on his word. Ultimately, my hubris sealed the deal.

I started as executive editor of The Enquirer and Radar Online in mid-May. What I soon learned is that Howard, even if he wanted to, wouldn’t be changing the operation; Pecker really ran the place. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, there were “cover meetings,” when Howard and the editors of The Enquirer’s sister titles would go before Pecker and several of his top lieutenants to show a few options and analyze sales figures. If one title had a week-to-week decline, Pecker became apoplectic. I would walk through the back of the newsroom near Pecker’s office and hear him screaming through the walls. Sometimes Pecker would suggest a preferred cover line, forcing us to twist a story to fit the language. In that paranoid environment, all anyone cared about was not incurring Pecker’s wrath and being fired. (Pecker did not respond to requests for comment.)

A frustrating first year spent in a windowless office was suddenly interrupted on the afternoon of March 29, 2015, when a source told me about a woman named Ambra Battilana Gutierrez who went to the New York Police Department after being groped by Harvey Weinstein in TriBeCa. My pulse was racing — finally a worthwhile scoop. There had been rumors about Weinstein and women for years. Affairs, the “casting couch” and worse. I called Howard and was struck by his response: He seemed less interested in the story than in the identity of my source. (In response to questions from The Times, Howard said he was simply vetting the story’s sourcing, a routine part of his job duties.)

I could not figure out his attitude. But before we got any further, The Daily News broke the story, with the help of police sources. But Gutierrez still hadn’t spoken publicly, and Howard went into overdrive trying to buy her side of the story. The Enquirer, like many tabloids, sometimes paid sources for exclusive stories; this is not an acceptable practice in most newsrooms, or in the ones I’ve worked in since. Still, it seemed odd that we were trying to buy a story that we could have had free. “Cash really no object,” Howard messaged me, “so I can sling your source 5k to get it done in addition to her 20k.” But Gutierrez didn’t want $20,000. She wanted her story heard. And it continued to roll out in other outlets, through leaks from law enforcement and “movie industry” sources — who framed the matter in the media as a blackmail attempt.

Howard was in and out of my office asking for updates. “I think the stakes just increased,” he texted me, “and your source could earn some big bucks.” I texted the source saying that Gutierrez could ask for any amount of money and that the source could take a substantial cut. “She’s less concerned w money than the right moves,” the source responded. By the middle of the week, Howard told me to offer Gutierrez $150,000, with a $25,000 finder’s fee to my go-between — an extraordinary amount of money. Most stories we bought cost us about a few thousand dollars. (Howard says he was merely conveying offers at the direction of Pecker.) “She says no,” the source texted back, “don’t ask again.”

Unknown to me at the time, Weinstein had all but secured a guarantee that we would never report on his sexual transgressions. Earlier that year, the Weinstein Company signed a deal with A.M.I. to produce something called Radar TV. The plan was to take our celebrity coverage from Radar Online and use it to make a daily, live TV show in the mold of “Access Hollywood.” The deal entailed lots of lunches between Weinstein and Howard at Tribeca Grill but never resulted in an actual TV show. Still, the partnership did make Weinstein a “FOP” — Friend of Pecker — which entitled him to protection from negative coverage. He was also able to leverage his relationship with A.M.I. to use our vast news-gathering resources to collect dirt on the actresses who he thought might talk to the press.

The New York Post, The Daily Mail and other outlets painted Gutierrez as a gold-digger who had attended the “bunga bunga” parties of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. Years later, I learned that one of A.M.I.’s top lawyers had informed someone in the office of Cy Vance, the Manhattan district attorney at the time, that Gutierrez was trying to sell her story to us. Vance’s office eventually announced that it would not pursue charges against Weinstein. (In the end, Gutierrez reached a settlement with Weinstein and went on to tell her story to the press.)

A couple of months later, Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower. Editorial discussions about John Travolta, Lisa Marie Presley and Bill Cosby were now interspersed with chatter about Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The headlines that resulted were not ambiguous.

“Why I am THE ONLY Choice For President EXCLUSIVE! DONALD TRUMP WRITES FOR THE ENQUIRER.” (He didn’t. A colleague cobbled the piece together, and Michael Cohen — Trump’s lawyer and go-between with A.M.I. — got Trump’s approval for it.)

“WHO’S CHELSEA’S REAL DAD? PREZ HOPEFUL HILLARY’S MOMENT OF TRUTH. EXCLUSIVE DNA TEST RESULTS BOMBSHELL.” (We had mounted an operation to collect Chelsea Clinton’s trash in an effort to get her DNA. But because Clinton lived in a big Manhattan apartment building, it was virtually impossible to get access to her garbage; we instead got a sample off a pen she used to sign a book. The results were inconclusive, but we published the story anyway.)

“HILLARY: 6 MONTHS TO LIVE!” Cruel Bill Forces Her To Stay On Campaign Trail.”

These covers came with doctored images of Clinton looking frail, bolstered by quotes from anyone who would say the right things and had a title that tenuously qualified him to offer an opinion. The Enquirer did employ real reporters who would comb through documents, cultivate sources and use old-school reporting techniques, but I was coming to terms with the other side of the magazine, where a headline was chosen and editors and writers spun up a tenuous story to match.

This all came on the heels of a family tragedy that made my job seem even more detestable and stupid. In the spring, my dad grew ill, and when he finally got to a doctor, irregularities were found in his blood. Stomach cancer. Stage 4. He was told he had three months to live.

I had a contentious relationship with him during my adolescence, and by 22 I had moved to London to pursue journalism. He and my mother would visit, but because I was gay and hiding this from them, it kept us distant. Soon after my younger brother came out, I asked my father how he was dealing with it. “It could be worse,” he told me. “We could have two of them.” When I finally came out several years later, my father took it in and asked me, “Are you sure you’re not bi?” It took a few years, but he came to terms with having two sons who weren’t straight. By the time of his 70th birthday, he had visited me in New York, and we ran around town like teenagers. He would tell me it was one of the best weeks of his life.

I landed back in Melbourne just in time. When I had last seen my dad a few months earlier, he was a fit 71-year-old. Now the color had drained from his skin. His voice was hoarse as we hugged. Just nine days after I landed, he was admitted to a palliative-care facility. He was unconscious, but we talked to him as if he were lucid. We all slept in his room. I lay awake and listened as his breaths got further and further apart. Just after 5 a.m. on May 1, 2015, he took his last.

I buried my father and returned to New York, dazed by grief. I cried in the shower before work. I sat blankly in editorial meetings. I don’t know how I would have responded to the events that followed had I not been so depressed. But the truth is that I was: I was drinking heavily, and life felt hopeless. I was angry. I became lazy. Even a little bit crazy.

In the fall, we got a startling tip over the transom from a former doorman at Trump World Tower, who said that Trump had an affair with a woman who worked in the building and that she had given birth to a secret “love child.” The tip line was a lot of fun but presented its fair share of headaches. Because we advertised that we paid for stories, we got all types of chancers and charlatans trying their luck. So we proceeded cautiously, not only because of that but also because we knew Trump was a FOP. Howard had to check with the boss before we could make any moves.

The word came back that we could proceed, and we quickly signed the tipster, Dino Sajudin, to a source contract that would pay $30,000 if we ran his story. We assigned a team of reporters to firm it up. Before any calls were made, we wanted to ensure that we had photos of both the woman and the “love child” in hand in case they went to ground. There was a stakeout at the home of the woman. Another reporter was sent to the address of the “love child.”

With photos of both secured, we arranged for Sajudin to sit for a polygraph. This was standard practice for stories that could draw legal action from a subject. We had two private investigators who would routinely conduct lie-detector tests on sources before we ran their stories. It was an extra layer of insurance, especially because The Enquirer was a constant target of lawsuits; a polygraph could demonstrate that we had gone above and beyond to confirm that a source was telling the truth. We would sometimes spike stories when sources failed polygraphs, but over time I came to feel that the tests were a cynical way of manufacturing a good-faith effort before publication.

Sajudin passed his polygraph, but it turned out that the information was secondhand: He had heard his colleagues talking about it and had no proof. He had serious credibility issues besides. If you ran his name through Google, you would find an anonymous website that accused Sajudin of making similar allegations about a Trump World Tower resident.

I could hear from Howard’s office that Michael Cohen was calling, and I assumed he was looking for updates. I had my doubts about the story, especially as the “love adult,” as I was now calling her (she was in her late 20s), looked just like the man named on her birth certificate, who was not Donald Trump. Then, out of nowhere, the order came to stand down.

Pecker made the call to pay Sajudin $30,000, and the story was killed without Howard explaining why. It was an enormous amount of money to pay someone, especially for a story we were not running. In December, a reporter met Sajudin at a McDonald’s in Pennsylvania to present him with the check. In return, he signed a new contract that stipulated that if he told the story to any third parties, he would be on the hook for a million dollars in damages to A.M.I. It was a highly unusual clause. The signed contract was put into a safe. A colleague who was working with me described what happened as a “catch and kill.” It was the first time I had heard the phrase, but it would not be the last.

As we hurtled toward the presidential primaries, there was a laser focus on stories about Trump’s rivals. Ben Carson, we alleged, had left a sponge in a woman’s brain. Bernie Sanders we accused without any evidence of being caught in a “child sex probe.” Marco Rubio, or at least someone with a similar haircut, had been photographed at a “man fest foam party.” While I had serious misgivings about publishing stories like these — which took cues from sites like Infowars and The Gateway Pundit — it also felt totally meaningless: Would anyone take this stuff seriously? I also quieted my conscience by continuing to drink heavily, every night.

Ted Cruz was a major target. We ran thinly sourced stories that suggested that he was a raging alcoholic who had five secret mistresses and was named in a madam’s “black book.” And we ran a cover story linking his father, Rafael, to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That article hinged on a grainy photo contained in the Warren Commission report purporting to show Lee Harvey Oswald handing out pro-Castro fliers with Rafael Cruz. The money quote came from a guy who ran a photo-digitization website who told the reporter with a “high degree of confidence” that it was the same person.

Then, much to everyone’s surprise — and my horror — the Cruz story was picked up by the mainstream media. Trump went on Fox News to repeat the claims, and the Cruz campaign was forced to respond. I watched in Howard’s office dumbfounded as Cruz denied the story on CNN.

I was eventually moved into a better office, one that had windows and an old safe about the size of a minifridge. The Sajudin contract was inside it, and I used it as a footrest. My old office, meanwhile, was littered with dozens of boxes that had been brought up from A.M.I.’s offices in Boca Raton, Fla. This was all the material the newsroom had collected on the Clintons over the decades. I was directed to hire a freelance researcher to go through them and generate memos so we could gin up hit pieces. The Enquirer had a similar archive of files on Trump — perhaps the most amazing trove of Trump material of any national media organization — but it was not receiving the same careful review.

Instead, I was going through the memos from the freelancer that provided the basis for spurious stories accusing Hillary Clinton of forming a “hit squad” to kill Vince Foster. Then we moved on to hyperbolic material on Bill Clinton and women. “HILLARY’S HIDING BILL’S SEX CRIMES! 36 WOMEN BREAK THEIR SILENCE” was the cover that landed in May 2016.

Between those were a drumbeat of fictitious health crises for the former first lady and presidential candidate. With the help of so-called medical experts — typically publicity-hungry pundits who understood what we wanted to hear — and the assistance of a talented art department, we tried to kill her off in print almost weekly. She would appear with her eyes made baggy and the colors in the images desaturated. In others, she swelled to fit the cover line that she had gained 103 pounds and was “Eating herself to death!” In another we purported to have her “FULL MEDICAL FILE!” which, as the cover screamed, said she had “3 strokes,” “Alzheimer’s,” “liver damage from booze” and “violent rages.”

We had another secret weapon: Michael Sylvestre. By day, Sylvestre worked at the Walt Disney Company, but at night he operated Truth and Deception Technologies in Florida. We would send Sylvestre audio clips of politicians or celebrities speaking, and after using software that he called DecepTech Voice Stress Analysis, he sent back charts at $500 per test. “HILLARY FAILED SECRET FBI LIE DETECTOR!” was one such cover. (We had no reason to believe DecepTech had been used by the F.B.I.) We went to him so often that I could signal that we required his services again by using a cranking hand motion.

In August, Howard told me he had met with a former Playboy Playmate named Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump. The woman was being represented by a lawyer, Keith Davidson, and Howard said he found her story credible. Howard told me that Pecker bought her story for $150,000 but that it would never see the light of day. It was the second catch-and-kill on Trump’s behalf that I heard about.

I started to avoid Howard as best as I could. Our interactions became icy, and colleagues in the newsroom started to notice. I felt as if I were being suffocated. And I feared that being near all of this would mean the end of my career.

Late in the afternoon on the Friday before the 2016 election, I received a call from Lukas Alpert, a Wall Street Journal reporter. He and I used to work together at The New York Post, and we kept in touch. He was on the media desk now but explained that he had been asked by a colleague on the investigative team for help on a story. Did I know anything about a woman named Karen McDougal?

I froze. I was in the newsroom and only feet from Howard. I told Alpert I would call him back. I walked to the elevator and rode it down to the entrance of the building. I explained the huge risk I was taking by helping him and the consequences if Pecker or Howard found out. I thought if I used an old-school tabloid term it would give me some cover; only the guys who had been there forever used that term.

“This was a catch-and-kill,” I told Alpert.

“What’s a catch-and-kill?” he asked.

I went on to explain the tabloid practice of buying stories to bury them. Alpert already had the outline of the story, I learned, and I filled him in on more: how Howard had flown out to Los Angeles that summer to buy McDougal’s story for $150,000, with the direction from Pecker to kill it to protect Trump. I stressed to him the importance of the term “catch and kill” and told him that if The Journal included it, it would give me some breathing room.

I went back to my office and closed the door. My heart was racing, and I was sweating. A short time later, Howard burst in.

“The Wall Street Journal has a story coming,” I recall him saying, before naming two former employees, blaming them for the leak. He slammed the door shut. The story went live after 9 that night. “National Enquirer Shielded Donald Trump From Playboy Model’s Affair Allegation.” And there it was in the third paragraph. “Quashing stories that way is known in the tabloid world as ‘catch and kill.’” I didn’t hear from Howard that weekend. No one thought Trump was going to win at that point, and the story was swallowed up in the pre-election frenzy.

That same week, I had finally hit my breaking point with the job. A few days earlier, Howard called me into his office. He explained that we would be crashing a late exclusive. He had obtained a seven-page dossier that contained what he said were emails between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin, one of her longtime aides. The only snag was that the emails were in Italian, and we had just hours to get them translated if we wanted any chance of meeting our print deadlines.

Howard told me that Pecker had spent thousands of dollars to buy the file from a private investigator. Pecker was always paranoid about leaks and had paid this investigator’s firm to do sweeps of A.M.I.’s office looking for listening devices. And now, the investigator had become a source. (In response to questions from The Times, the investigator said he could not remember many details of this episode.)

The dossier, Howard explained, had come to our source via the Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Esterna — Italian intelligence, where the source apparently had connections. This is why the emails, though originally written in English, were in Italian. The agency had received the emails from Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the source said, which had itself hacked Clinton’s servers and obtained the emails from a laptop Abedin shared with her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. Despite the many red flags and ethical questions that chain of custody raised, Howard believed in the dossier. And besides, Pecker had already decreed that this would be the cover story. The research team had found two New York University students to translate the documents. When they arrived, I was instructed to confiscate their cellphones.

The translators finished, and we managed to close the issue by midnight. “Hillary & Huma GOING TO JAIL!” was the cover line, with bullet points claiming, among other things, a “Secret hospitalization & truth about GAY AFFAIR!” (The translations in the article were totally garbled, and the inferences we made from them were absurd.) While it made its way to the printers, I went with Howard and some colleagues to White Horse Tavern — not the famous one, the one in the Financial District. He was buzzing with glee; I could barely look him in the eyes. I needed to get out, but I needed my visa to stay in the country and find another job. I held on to the thought that this would all soon be over. The election was just six days away. Clinton looked sure to win. Trump would fade away. I would be able to find my way out and back to actual journalism.

Instead, my duties somehow became even more depraved. When The Wall Street Journal contacted A.M.I. for comment about the $150,000 payment to Karen McDougal, the company claimed that the money was not to kill her story but rather to purchase her life rights to “any relationship she has had with a then-married man,” as well as two years of fitness columns and magazine covers. This had in fact been stipulated in the contract A.M.I. drew up with her lawyer, but now we had to actually come up with the columns. I assigned a reporter to ghostwrite them, and he got on a call with McDougal to take notes while cribbing fitness tips from the internet.

Alpert and his colleagues at The Journal were chasing fresh leads. I mentioned the doorman and the events of the previous year. Alpert asked for the names, so I opened the safe and got out the contract, which contained notes with the names of the woman and the “love adult.” I texted them to Alpert, put the documents back and went to close the safe. But the door wouldn’t shut. I tried desperately, but this rickety old safe refused to close. I was starting to panic. At any time, Howard could come in. I turned up the sound on my office TV as I sat hammering at this old metal door. Finally, the bloody thing shut.

After Trump won, I could not hide my utter contempt for Howard. My position as his deputy became untenable. By this point, the two of us were barely on speaking terms. I wasted my afternoons drinking alone in nearby bars and restaurants while I devised an exit strategy. I retained an employment attorney, knowing that both Howard and Pecker would love nothing more than to screw me on the way out. Howard was enraged by my behavior and made it known to others in the newsroom.

In July 2017, after weeks of negotiations, I was presented with a nine-page separation agreement. I would be kept on as an employee for the next nine months, collecting half my salary as a form of severance. That meant I would be able to continue living in the United States until my visa expired. But the price would be my silence: a nondisclosure agreement covering A.M.I. in general and Pecker in particular. The contract’s language was so broad that it prohibited me, in perpetuity, from even writing a work of fiction about my time at the company.

On Aug. 4, I entered the morning news meeting for the final time. Howard announced to the staff I would be “working from home” for the foreseeable future. I looked him in the eye and shook his hand. It would be the last time I saw him.

About six weeks after I left and around the time The New York Times and The New Yorker broke the Weinstein story, I was walking back to my apartment when I got a call from my attorney. A.M.I.’s lawyers had sent him a letter accusing me of breaching my nondisclosure agreement on three occasions. The letter threatened termination and damages, but it was the next sentence that got me. “In the event A.M.I. terminates Mr. Cartwright’s employment he will not be entitled to lawfully remain in the USA.” I vomited. They might not have known what I’d actually done, but it seemed they were trying to scare me into silence.

I resolved that if I was approached by a journalist whom I trusted and who I knew would protect me, I would do my best to help. Someone out there could do the work I should have been doing all along. A few weeks later, I received a direct message on Twitter from a New York Times reporter. I responded to him with my cell number and agreed to meet. I told the reporter what happened in 2015 with Gutierrez. I detailed Howard’s requests for damaging information on women connected to Weinstein, which usually followed their regular TriBeCa lunches. (Howard says he never asked Enquirer staffers to share damaging information on women connected to Weinstein.) But I stressed that the real story was The Enquirer’s work on behalf of Trump.

Eventually, I got a burner phone, as I was in almost daily contact with the reporter at The Times, my contact at The Journal and others. It was hard to keep them all straight. I emailed the New Yorker writer Ronan Farrow with the subject line “Signal.” “Are you on it?” I asked. He was in touch an hour later, and I began telling him what happened with Dino the Doorman.

It became clear to me that reporters from The Journal were in possession of information that could have come from only a small circle of people, and I feared that the source was Howard. If the reporters I had been talking to were incautious, they could have easily revealed to him that I had been a source, too. It would be the ammunition Howard needed to terminate my agreement and have me booted from the country. But on the other hand, if he was a source, how could he tell Pecker that he had learned I was, too? These paranoid thoughts kept me up at night.

I had heard A.M.I. sometimes tailed current and former employees. I became convinced that the same was happening to me. That might explain an incident that took place one evening when I went to Babeland, an adult store in SoHo, and walked out with a dildo, lubricant and condoms. As I exited the store, a car pulled up, and out jumped a man with a camera, who proceeded in the most indiscreet way to take a series of photos of me with a bright flash. Before I knew it, he had jumped back in the car, and it sped off. Were those photos going to be used to embarrass me? Was it a way to scare me?

With just weeks left on my visa, I had spent six months working free as a source, a self-imposed sentence for my many crimes against journalism. By this time I was in the late stages of interviews for a new job with The Daily Beast and an opportunity to resuscitate my byline.

Since I left A.M.I., I have lived under constant threat of litigation from my former employer. A.M.I. has threatened me with a $5 million lawsuit for breach of contract. (In 2020, A.M.I. was merged with another company and renamed A360 Media; A360 Media did not respond to requests for comment.) Howard has threatened me with another $5 million suit over articles I wrote for The Daily Beast, accusing me of defamation and breach of contract. But now the facts of what happened are a matter of public record, the basis for the first-ever criminal trial of a former president. Indeed, Pecker and Howard have already testified before Bragg’s grand jury. If they’re called again to testify at the trial, they will in all likelihood be revealing some of the same information they tried to intimidate me into withholding.

As I’ve tried to come to terms with just how corrupt an organization I worked for in those years, I’ve taken some comfort in the fact that acting as a source for other journalists helped rebalance the scales — not only for me but for the public too. After the last legal threat Howard sent me, in October 2020, a lawyer representing me wrote a strongly worded letter in response, arguing that the information I shared was “in the public interest” and “in some cases, it was of profound national importance.” The letters stopped; no suits have been filed. Three years after leaving the building for the last time, I finally felt free of the place.

Then the Bragg indictment outlined, in plain and unafraid black and white, the schemes that felt so opaque and contentious and complex when I had to navigate my way through them in real time. But it was the 13-page statement of facts that brought me to tears. On Page 3, prosecutors outlined “The Catch and Kill Scheme to Suppress Negative Information,” and it revealed to me that I had been managing a newsroom with improvised explosive devices planted everywhere. The secret deal that was made at Trump Tower, where Pecker told Cohen he would act as the campaign’s “eyes and ears.” The hush-money payoffs. The plot to publish negative stories about Trump’s rivals. A scheme to influence the 2016 election.

Everything finally fit into place. There were no more secrets, and I wasn’t alone anymore. Everyone now knew.

Lachlan Cartwright is a special correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter. He has been a journalist for 20 years, reporting from Australia, London and New York.

Photo credits for top image: Gabe Ginsberg/FilmMagic/Getty Images (Daniels); Andrew Burton/Getty Images (Trump); Santiago Felipe/WireImage/Getty Images (Weinstein); Brendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images (Clinton).

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