“What’s in the safe?”
The headline on the cover of the New York Post editions on Aug. 23 spoke volumes about the impact, power and reach of AP reporting on the legal chaos surrounding President Donald Trump.
Washington investigative reporter Jeff Horwitz exclusively reported that the National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Horwitz's story quickly went to No. 1 on AP Mobile and led websites around the world.
It was one of two AP exclusives touching on Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen that seized the nation’s attention last week. In addition to Horwitz, Albany statehouse reporter David Klepper was first to report that New York state investigators issued a subpoena to Cohen as part of their probe into the Trump Foundation. With the president’s legal woes mounting, Klepper reported that Cohen could potentially be a significant source of information for state investigators looking into whether Trump or his charity broke state law or lied about their tax liability.
For their exclusives, Horwitz and Klepper win the Beat of the Week.
The Horwitz story added to the intrigue after word spread that National Enquirer chief David Pecker had been granted immunity by prosecutors in the Cohen investigation. Horwitz had been reporting for more than a year on Enquirer parent American Media Inc., and had sources hinting at the existence of such a safe.
After Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges related to hush-money payments, Horwitz redoubled his efforts, calling his sources to nail down not only the existence of the safe but how the material in it was handled. In the end, he got five people familiar with the arrangement to talk about it on condition of anonymity because they had signed non-disclosure agreements. In a nutshell, the National Enquirer gathered up damaging material that they would not publish.
Horwitz had been reporting for more than a year on Enquirer parent AMI, and had sources hinting at the existence of a safe.
Horwitz’s reporting said the safe with Trump stories became a source of power for Pecker, but that it also became a liability after news reports surfaced just before the 2016 election of a deal with Playboy model Karen McDougal.
In addition to the story making the New York Post cover, Horwitz went on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show to talk about his scoop. The story was also featured prominently in newspapers and on evening nightly news shows.
Klepper’s separate scoop came about because he had been staying in regular contact with state prosecutors looking into alleged improprieties at the Trump Foundation. He got a tip from a source that Cohen had received a subpoena in that state investigation after he pleaded guilty to the federal charge. Klepper followed up with the detail that Cohen himself had reached out to state officials just hours after receiving the subpoena. He made clear that he was ready and willing to talk with them.
For their dogged reporting efforts breaking news around the Trump-Cohen story and what it could mean for Trump’s presidency, Horwitz and Klepper share the Beat of the Week award.