Karen McDougal’s lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, takes aim at The National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media Inc., according to the complaint. She claims they paid her $150,000 for the story of her affair — only to never publish it.
Ahead of the presidential election, the Wall Street Journal published an article saying the media company shelled out the cash as part of a well-known tabloid maneuver called 'catch and kill.' The 2016 agreement did not require the Enquirer to run the story but effectively muted McDougal on the matter.
AMI general counsel Cameron Stracher denied the company has prevented McDougal from discussing her alleged affair, telling the Daily News 'that she's already free to respond to press inquiries. That's been true since 2016.'
McDougal in the suit claims the opposite is true and additionally alleges Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was secretly involved in her negotiations with American Media Inc. She also accused her own lawyer at the time of joining their efforts to mislead her about the nature of the deal.
'AMI lied to me, made empty promises, and repeatedly intimidated and manipulated me,' McDougal said in a statement. 'I just want the opportunity to set the record straight and move on with my life, free from this company, its executives, and its lawyers.'
McDougal first rose to fame in the late 1990s for a sting of appearances in Playboy magazine. She eventually went on to nab the coveted 'Playmate of the Year' title in 1998.
'For several years, Ms. McDougal led a 'Hollywood' life, attending events and parties as both honored guest and hostess,' according to court documents. 'During that time, Ms. McDougal had a 10-month relationship with Mr. Trump.'
The model and actress enjoyed 'relative privacy' in the years following her relationship with President Trump, which came to an end in 2007, according to court documents. Her life would change forever though, when former Playboy Playmate Carrie Stevens outed their affair in a series of tweets in May 2016.
Convinced news of the extramarital relationship would come out in full, McDougal hired entertainment lawyer Keith Davidson who 'assured her that the rights to publish her story were worth millions.'
'Unknown to Ms. McDougal, Mr. Davidson was working closely with representatives for Mr. Trump while pretending to advocate on her behalf,' the suit alleges.
Sources told the Daily News that McDougal was 'fielding multiple offers' before she signed the agreement with the National Enquirer. ABC News was also in the running, but McDougal eventually 'sold to the highest bidder,' one source said.
Davidson told her AMI would purchase her story but 'not publish it' because of chief executive David J. Pecker's close relationship with Trump. They promised instead to run columns, articles and at least two covers featuring McDougal and pushed her to sign the deal without delay.
'It's buyer's remorse,' the source said of the new legal action.
'She wrote articles and collected money for them,' the source said of the fitness columns she authored for American Media. 'This was meant to jumpstart her career.'
Even after her agreement was later amended to say she could 'respond to legitimate press inquiriers regarding the facts of her alleged relationship with Donald Trump,' it still said she could be on the hook for $150,000 in liquidated damages if she gave interviews 'without prior written consent.'
'A quarter billion dollar company posing as a media organization systemically intimidated and silenced Karen McDougal in order to achieve its political and financial ends, and she will no longer be quiet,' her current lawyer, Peter Stris, said in a statement. 'Through efforts including the collusion of her own lawyer, AMI has consistently deceived and manipulated Mr. McDougal through an illegitimate contract.'
A source close to Davidson said the lawyer was interested in speaking out on McDougal's filing, adding that his previous stint as her lawyer limits him in doing so.
'The circumstances today are vastly different than the circumstances from 2016. There's nothing Mr. Davidson would love more than to comment on the lawsuit filed by Ms. McDougal, however he cannot do so at this time due to attorney-client confidentiality.'
The lawsuit, first reported by the New York Times, makes McDougal the second woman fighting for release from an agreement preventing her from speaking out on a relationship with the President.
Adult film actress Stormy Daniels — who was paid $130,000 by Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in exchange for her silence — similarly filed suit earlier this month.
The White House and Trump have repeatedly denied both affairs.