A new book by a pair of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists presents a fresh take on decades of headline-grabbing reports about Trump's circle

By Sam Gillette
January 28, 2020 11:46 AM
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Before his inauguration, President Donald Trump vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C.

But a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters documents how Trump’s past is just as murky as the political arena he promised to clean up.

Joe Palazzolo and Michael Rothfeld’s The Fixers — subtitled The Bottom-Feeders, Crooked Lawyers, Gossipmongers, and Porn Stars Who Created the 45th President and published this month — presents a fresh take on decades of headline-grabbing reports that have surfaced about Trump and the aides and associates who have been willing to get into the muck for him.

The new book focuses on Trump’s relationships with men such as former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker; Trump’s disgraced personal attorney Michael Cohen; and Rudy Giuliani, a Trump attorney and former mayor of New York City now at the center of the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment.

All three men, as The Fixer reports, protected the real-estate mogul and reality TV star and made deals that helped Trump rise to the top, first in business and later as a politician.

The result, according to the book, is a shadowy narrative that encompasses Trump’s mob-connected real estate days and infidelities as well as backroom deals and favors that he brokered to maintain his high-rolling image as a presidential candidate — including the hush-money payments made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who both said they had affairs with Trump.

(He’s denied this, just as he has denied the dozen-plus other allegations of sexual assault or misconduct against him.)

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With The Fixers, Palazzolo and Rothfeld also detail how Trump’s machinations affected two of the most important women in his life: wife Melania, the first lady, and daughter Ivanka, who is a senior aide.

A White House spokeswoman initially claimed she was unaware of The Fixers or its reporting. (The authors disputed this.) She did not comment when PEOPLE sent a list of specific details from the book which are recounted in this article.

The Fixers is based on more than two years of reporting and interviews with “hundreds of people,” according to the writers. Even before the book was conceptualized, Palazzolo and Rothfeld won a Pulitzer for their Wall Street Journal series of stories about Daniels and McDougal. (Rothfeld now works at The New York Times.)

The focus of that first series wasn’t on the illicit sex but the fact that Trump participated in the women’s silencing through money payments and non-disclosure agreements. Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Daniels and his help arranging a payment of $150,000 to McDougal from The National Enquirer to ensure their silence during the 2016 election — payments he said were made at Trump’s direction — was the impetus behind his three-year jail sentence.

Michael Cohen
Yana Paskova/Getty

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The authors delve further into these details and the desires of both women to profit off of their stories of sexual encounters that happened more than 10 years ago, after Trump was married.

In one of the more salacious sections of the book, Palazzolo and Rothfeld report that the president allegedly offered McDougal $4,000 after they had sex the first time. Offended, McDougal told him, “I’m not that kind of girl. I slept with you because I really like you.”

“Oh, you’re really special,” Trump replied, according to the book. On the way home, McDougal cried in the car. But she continued the affair.

“McDougal spent time in New York at the Trump Tower residence while Melania and Barron were away,” Palazzolo and Rothfeld write in The Fixers. “He showed McDougal a closet with Melania’s clothes and shoes. McDougal was surprised at how small the kitchen was in the otherwise palatial penthouse. They had sex in Melania Trump‘s separate bedroom.”

The book also alleges that Trump told McDougal, “I so want to make you pregnant.” They weren’t using protection and, once during their 10-month long affair, McDougal had a pregnancy scare.

McDougal said she ended the affair because she felt guilty, according to a 2018 CNN interview.

“What can you say except, ‘I’m sorry — I’m sorry,’ ” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, when asked what she would say to Mrs. Trump.

Karen McDougal
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Stormy Daniels
Gabe Ginsberg/Getty

Around the same time, Trump was allegedly pursuing Daniels, an adult film actress, who claims they had one sexual encounter and that Trump promised to get her a spot on his hit reality show The Apprentice.

Daniels later wrote about their relationship in detail in her 2018 memoir, Full Disclosure. But long before she began typing up her life’s story, she tried to get money for it from The National Enquirer, according to The Fixers.

According to the book, the tabloid’s then-editor Dylan Howard negotiated with Daniels’ agent to “catch and kill” the story — arguing over the price until they agreed on $120,000.

But Pecker — reportedly with an unsavory history of buying and never publishing stories for favors, both with Trump and others — wasn’t willing to pay that much, according to The Fixers. So Daniels became Cohen’s problem.

(In December 2018, Daniels was ordered to pay $293,000 in legal fees and sanctions after losing a defamation lawsuit against the president.)

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Previously, Pecker had purchased McDougal’s story through his publishing company American Media Inc. “Can you make this go away?” Trump reportedly asked the publisher, per the book.

Palazzolo and Rothfeld also touch on other reported scandals connected to the Enquirer, a notorious checkout-line tabloid: from Pecker’s negotiation with Tiger Woods after his reporters got dirt on one of the golfer’s affairs to trying to make a deal with Arnold Schwarzenegger after a nude photo of the governor was reportedly discovered, to Pecker’s turbulent relationship with John F. Kennedy Jr

President Donald Trump
Chip Somodevilla/Getty
Random House

President Trump’s relationship with “fixers” such as Pecker sometimes stretched beyond him into his business dealings and his family members, both before and after the election, according to the book.

After Pecker’s publishing company bought Us Weekly, Ivanka Trump was allegedly angry about a cover story that read, “Ivanka Takes a Stand: Why I Disagree With My Dad.” According to The Fixers, the editors of the story had to “explain themselves to one of her aides and run a ‘makeup’ cover later in the year, headlined ‘My Life at the White House.’ “

At another point, Cohen and other allies were trying to confirm if a video of “Trump striking his wife in an elevator” existed so they could bury it, according to the book.

Cohen addressed the rumored existence of the video in court.

“I don’t believe Mr. Trump would ever strike Mrs. Trump, ever.” Cohen said, according to New York magazine. “I know several people who went to go try to purchase it for ‘catch and kill’ purposes. It doesn’t exist.” (Trump’s team would also try to “catch and kill” stories about an illegitimate daughter and a photo of Trump about to autograph a woman’s bare breasts, per the book.)

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According to The Fixers, Cohen became accustomed to lying to the first lady in order to cover for the president. After the news of the Daniels hush-money payment broke, Trump called Cohen while he was in the car with his wife and asked Cohen if he’d really made the $130,000 payment, according to The Fixers. When Trump asked Cohen why, Cohen knew how he was expected to respond.

“Sometimes, you know, just because something’s not true doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you,” Cohen said, per the book.

“Wow. Melania, do you believe that? He took $130,000 out of his pocket,” the president reportedly responded. “Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

Cohen replied: “I guess I’ll just call it a cost of doing business.”

The Fixers is on sale now.

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