David Pecker, American Media Chief, Is Said to Have Immunity in Trump Inquiry

The company’s cooperation gives prosecutors a second line of access to communications about the effort to protect Mr. Trump’s secrets involving women during the campaign, on top of the information provided by Mr. Cohen.

Though several people familiar with American Media’s operations have said that the company keeps a strict records policy that ensures that emails are deleted regularly, it is not clear the same held for encrypted communications or recordings; Dylan Howard, the company’s chief content officer, who is also said to be cooperating, was known to have a recording device in his office, according to people familiar with his operations. American Media would not comment.

In court documents filed on Tuesday federal prosecutors cited “encrypted” communications among Mr. Pecker, Mr. Howard and Mr. Cohen regarding the payoff to Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actress known as Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had a brief affair with Mr. Trump.

American Media executives might also be in a position to shed light on other people in Mr. Trump’s orbit who may have been involved in the payoffs, which could potentially take the investigation more deeply into Mr. Trump’s campaign organization, business or both.

In spring 2018, prosecutors subpoenaed communications between Mr. Pecker and Mr. Howard.

According to the court documents made public this week, Mr. Pecker and Mr. Howard both informed Mr. Cohen as early as June 2016 that the former Playboy model Karen McDougal was seeking to sell her story about a 10-month affair with Mr. Trump about a decade earlier.

Mr. Howard negotiated the purchase of rights to Ms. McDougal’s story for $150,000. Mr. Cohen subsequently sought to buy those rights from the American Media executives within months of Ms. McDougal’s agreement, finalized in early August 2016.

Mr. Pecker and Mr. Howard did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Depending on how far it goes — and that was not clear as of Thursday afternoon — the immunity deal gives American Media breathing room in an investigation that posed a serious legal threat to the company.

In bringing their charges against Mr. Cohen, prosecutors defined the company’s payment to Ms. McDougal as an illegal, coordinated campaign expenditure. Election law prohibits corporations from spending money to influence elections in conjunction with candidates or their representatives.