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In historic case against Donald Trump, ‘Woman-1’ isn’t who you might suppose

Karen McDougal

Karen McDougal (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Playboy)

The scheme to “Catch and Kill” – to kill a news story – that led to the historic indictment of a president didn’t start with Stormy Daniels, according to New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

“As part of this scheme, Donald Trump and others made three payments to people who claimed to have negative information about Mr. Trump,” Bragg said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The first payoff was to keep former Playboy model Karen McDougal whom Bragg called “Woman #1”, from revealing in a televised interview what she claimed was a 9-month affair with the married President. Brian Ross, then Chief Investigative Correspondent for ABC News and myself, were the reporters Trump wanted to silence, to “catch and kill” our story.

It wasn’t until 2020 that McDougal finally broke her silence, speaking with Ross now at the Abrams Media Law&Crime Network, about the “catch and kill” operation.

Brian Ross: As you recall, prior to signing the deal, you were talking with me and with Rhonda Schwartz about doing an interview when we worked at ABC News then. And then that got canceled.

Karen McDougal: The deal was canceled because we had signed a deal with AMI in order for me to work and never talk about it again. We never talk about the relationship again.

In October 2016, just days before she was set to be interviewed by Ross at ABC, about what she claimed was a 9-month affair that began shortly after his son Baron was born, McDougal canceled “due to family issues”. It was just weeks before the Presidential election.

Brian Ross: So Karen, looking back on this four-year saga, do you wish perhaps you had done the interview with us and called it done?

Karen McDougal: I do, actually. It was a whole big ordeal. I just wish I had come clean in the beginning. Let it out and kind of relaxed after that, because it was kind of a nightmare for a while. In every sense of the word and from A to Z, it was a flat out nightmare.

Karen McDougal: Brian, it was very scary. I actually went into hiding for a while. Even though it’s hiding, I had strange people follow me around knocking at my door.

We had spent months corroborating McDougal’s story, speaking to her friends and her then attorney Keith Davidson, who provided us with McDougal’s detailed and contemporaneous diary – sex with Donald Trump was labeled “DT.” Davidson then went on to represent Stormy Daniels in a similar negotiation, also part of the indictment.

But perhaps the most intriguing detail were photographs of gifts Trump gave her that McDougal shared with us. McDougal, a religious woman, described them as “cheap religious artifacts”. Trump told her they came from a Beverly Hills home he intended to buy for their trysts.

The homeowner was a religious woman who kept an altar in her bedroom. Her son Richard Cavalli later sold the home to Trump after his mother passed away.

“He told me it was really important to him. That it meant everything to him. That he needed the shrine,” Cavalli said in an interview with “Brian Ross Investigates.”

When contacted by “Brian Ross Investigates” Cavalli said he indeed recognized the artifacts and said it finally explained a mystery to him.

Trump had insisted on keeping his mother’s altar or the real estate deal was off. Cavalli said he now felt betrayed by Trump.

“It absolutely shocked me and horrified me. I feel betrayed. They meant a lot to me,” Cavalli said. “I wouldn’t have gotten those even those few little pieces away to Mr. Trump if I had known that they were going to go elsewhere.”

McDougal insisted she was not taken advantage of by Trump – she believed herself to be in love with Trump and he with her. In meetings with the National Enquirer editors she was told Trump asked them to find out “Does she still love me?”

Following the revelation of the “catch and kill scheme,” first reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2018, and an initial interview with CNN, McDougal did not speak further about her relationship with Trump. And unlike Stormy Daniels, McDougal’s career languished and she fell on hard times financially.

McDougal became an advocate for women’s health, sharing images online of her surgery to remove breast implants she believed were making her ill. She is active on social media, posting religious and inspirational messages on Facebook where she posted recently about a trip to New York City which raised speculation whether she was there to testify before the Grand Jury.

“I’ve been out and about enjoying God’s country… I hope I didn’t miss anything,” she tweeted today.

Trump has repeatedly denied the affair with McDougal, and neither McDougal nor her most recent attorney of record returned messages from Law&Crime. Attorney Keith Davidson when reached by Law&Crime declined to comment.

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