An explosive new report in The New Yorker claims that Donald Trump had a consensual sexual relationship with former Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal while married to wife Melania.
The piece — titled “Donald Trump, a Playboy Model, and a System for Concealing Infidelity” — comes from journalist Ronan Farrow, who helped expose the alleged sexual misconduct allegations against disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. (Farrow is also the son of actress Mia Farrow and estranged from father Woody Allen.)
In it, Farrow details the alleged elaborate coverup system the former Celebrity Apprentice host set up to hide and protect his extramarital affairs before his presidency, claiming Trump used “clandestine hotel-room meetings, payoffs, and complex legal agreements to keep affairs — sometimes multiple affairs he carried out simultaneously — out of the press.”
Central to those efforts was Trump’s tight relationship with National Enquirer publisher American Media, Inc. and its C.E.O. and chairman David Pecker, who describes the president as “a personal friend,” Farrow reports. The company would purchase the exclusive rights to a story in order to bury it, a practice known in the tabloid industry as “catch and kill.”
McDougal was allegedly paid $150,000 for the rights to her story (AMI never ran it because they “did not find it credible,” they told The New Yorker). She was also allegedly contracted her to write almost a hundred aging and wellness columns and be “prominently featured’ on two magazine covers (to date, she has appeared on one cover and had nine columns published). AMI has reportedly approached McDougal a number of times since about extending her contract.
“It took my rights away,” McDougal told Farrow, declining to give details about her alleged affair with Trump to The New Yorker for fear of retribution. “At this point I feel I can’t talk about anything without getting into trouble, because I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about. I’m afraid to even mention his name.”
AMI told The New Yorker that an amendment made to McDougal’s contract and signed after Trump won the presidential election allowed her to “respond to legitimate press inquiries” regarding the affair.
AMI also said in a statement given to PEOPLE, “The New Yorker and Ronan Farrow’s suggestion that AMI engages in any practice that would allow it to hold influence over the President of the United States is laughable.”
But Farrow was able to obtain an eight-page handwritten account of McDougal’s alleged sexual relationship with Trump, which she confirmed she had written. In that account, McDougal claims she met Trump in 2006 during a taping of The Apprentice at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.
Trump “immediately took a liking to me, kept talking to me — telling me how beautiful I was, etc,” McDougal wrote. He asked for her phone number, she claimed, and they later met and had dinner in a private bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Afterwards, they had consensual sex, she alleged. This was less than two years after Trump married Melania and a few months after the birth of his son, Barron, now 11.
The affair continued for nine months, ending in April 2007, McDougal claimed. She traveled with him to the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, at the Edgewood Resort, on Lake Tahoe in July 2006. She was also at his January 2007 launch party in Los Angeles for Trump’s now-defunct liquor brand, Trump Vodka.
During the course of it, she alleged Trump took pains to avoid connecting her expenses back to him. “No paper trails for him,” she wrote. “In fact, every time I flew to meet him, I booked/paid for flight + hotel + he reimbursed me.”
McDougal also claimed that Trump once gave her a tour of Trump Tower and his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club — pointing out Melania’s separate bedroom. “He said she liked her space to read or be alone,” McDougal wrote.
Trump often sent McDougal favorable articles about his businesses and showered her with merchandise from his golf courses, she claimed. He allegedly promised to buy her an apartment in New York as a Christmas present.
White House reps did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, but told The New Yorker that Trump denies having had an affair with McDougal: “This is an old story that is just more fake news. The President says he never had a relationship with McDougal.”