The tabloid executive David J. Pecker has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors investigating payments during the 2016 campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Donald J. Trump, a person familiar with the investigation confirmed on Thursday.
Mr. Pecker is chief executive and chairman of American Media Inc., the nation’s biggest tabloid news publisher, best known for its flagship, The National Enquirer.
He is close to Mr. Trump and the president’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, and had been integral to a campaign effort to help protect Mr. Trump from embarrassing stories about women as he ran for the presidency.
Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday to violating campaign finance law and other charges. He also acknowledged that Mr. Trump had directed him to arrange payments to two women during the 2016 campaign to keep them from speaking publicly about affairs they said they had with Mr. Trump.
The agreement adds another unusual aspect to a case never seen before in the annals of presidential campaign finance history. It means that a company that operates as a news organization is cooperating with federal authorities on an investigation that involves its work with a campaign.
As The New York Times reported in July, federal prosecutors determined that in American Media’s work for Mr. Cohen — and, according to Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s candidacy — the company operated in more of a campaign mode.
And when the authorities subpoenaed the company in April, its executives decided against fighting it, agreeing to cooperate where warranted, and where they deemed officials were not violating First Amendment rights.
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.