A former Playboy model who said she had a 10-month affair with President Trump told her story for the first time Thursday night on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360°—saying she was in love with the reality TV star and didn’t know he had other women.
Karen McDougal told Anderson Cooper she saw Trump at least five times a month through 2006 until April 2007, when she ended the relationship. She said they slept together dozens of times without protection and that she was unaware Trump was apparently seeing other people, including porn star Stormy Daniels.
“He was so sweet,” McDougal said. “Like what everyone sees on TV, I didn’t see in that man. Because that man was very sweet, very respectful, very loving, very kind and caring. That’s the man I saw.”
McDougal’s exclusive interview came two days after she filed a lawsuit to free her from a non-disclosure agreement about her alleged affair with Trump—and three days before Daniels’ interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes is scheduled to air.
On Tuesday, McDougal sued American Media Inc. (AMI), the parent company of The National Enquirer. The tabloid paid McDougal $150,000 to obtain exclusive rights to her story of her sexual relationship with Trump, then buried it. The payoff was allegedly made to protect the president, who is a friend of AMI’s chief executive.
The CNN special largely covered what’s already been reported on McDougal’s story, which was revealed in Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker investigation and detailed in McDougal’s lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County.
But McDougal’s television interview also humanized Trump.
She told Cooper she met Trump while filming Celebrity Apprentice at the Playboy Mansion, where she was hired to work a pool party scene. The event, according to The New Yorker, occurred in June 2006.
“You know, he said hello like he would to anybody. And then throughout the night, it was kind of obvious that there was an attraction from his part to me, and I just kind of blew it off,” McDougal recalled of that fateful day.
Trump was watching McDougal so much, she said, that the Playboy Bunny “house mother” told her, “Wow, this guy’s really into you.” They struck up a conversation, and Trump got her phone number. She didn’t consider dating him, she said, but was interested in getting to know this “brilliant” businessman.
They spoke on the phone before Trump next visited Los Angeles, which McDougal says was on or around his birthday on June 12. “He would call me. I would call him. I had many of his phone numbers,” McDougal said.
The 1998 Playmate of the Year said she had a few of Trump’s direct numbers, his bodyguard Keith Schiller’s digits, and the number of Trump’s personal secretary. “But I had all these phone numbers, so if I couldn’t reach him on one, depending on where he’s going to be, I would call the other.”
McDougal said that when Trump called her, it would be from a blocked number—which was also apparently his M.O. with Stormy Daniels.
Yet after their first date at Trump’s Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow, McDougal said she thought she’d never see him again. She was upset when he allegedly tried to pay her for sex.
That night, Schiller picked McDougal up and drove her to the back of the hotel. McDougal was expecting dinner in the restaurant, but she ended up in the bungalow. “At that moment, I realized maybe something else was going on,” McDougal said. They talked and got to know one another for a few hours, then became intimate.
When Cooper asked if McDougal was attracted to Trump, she replied, “I was attracted to him, yeah. He’s a nice-looking man, and you know, I liked his charisma. I love good, great posture. He’s got great posture, and he was nice.”
After they had sex, the night ended on a strange note; Trump allegedly tried to hand her money. “After we had been intimate, he tried to pay me, and I actually didn’t know how to take that,” McDougal said.
She added, “The look on my face must have been so sad, because I had never been offered money like that before, number 1. But number 2, I thought, ‘Does he think that I’m in this for money or why I’m here tonight. Or is this a normal thing?”
McDougal turned to Trump and said, “That’s not me. I’m not that kind of girl.” She said the future president replied, “You’re really special.” McDougal told Cooper that she left and cried in the car on her way home.
“It really hurt me, but I went back,” she said.
McDougal showed Cooper a daily planner, where she marked down every time she saw Trump with a “T” or a “DT.” She didn’t put his full name in writing not only to protect Trump but her own reputation, she said.
Her friends and her sister knew about her relationship with Trump, she said. She told her mother they were only friends, and her mother warned her about being involved with a married man.
One time, just like Stormy Daniels, McDougal said she put Trump on speakerphone while her sister listened to their call.
“When you have a relationship with somebody, you don’t hide it, right? If there’s feelings, you don’t hide that relationship,” McDougal said.
Asked if Trump ever asked for her discretion, McDougal said no. “Never,” McDougal said. “In fact, I think once he asked, ‘Does your sister know?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, she knows.’ And he’s like, ‘Awww.’”
Trump only brought up his wife, Melania, once that McDougal could recall. He said Melania “was an intelligent woman” and that “she knew four or five languages.”
“But other than that he never talked about his wife and I never brought her up,” McDougal said, adding that his marriage was “out of sight, out of mind.”
McDougal teared up when asked how she viewed the relationship. “I know it’s wrong. I’m really sorry for that. I know it’s a wrong thing to do,” she said, pausing to collect herself. “Back in the day I was a different girl. I had fun. I was in the Playboy scene. I was just enjoying life as much as I could.
“When I got with him, there was a real relationship there,” she added. “There were real feelings between the two of us.” Trump allegedly told her he loved her constantly and called her “baby” and “beautiful Karen.”
McDougal said she not only saw Trump in Los Angeles but went to the same Lake Tahoe golf tournament with him where he allegedly bedded Daniels. She said she booked her own airfare and hotels to hide a paper trail but that Trump would reimburse her.
At Christmas, McDougal got Trump a present, she said. And while she said he never bought her gifts, he did tell her he was giving her a New York apartment but that it was being renovated. (Trump, too, allegedly offered Daniels a pad in Trump Tower.)
While McDougal said she was in love, the guilt ate away at her. She said meeting Trump at the home he shared with Melania was too much for her.
“I just couldn’t wait to get out of the apartment. I wanted to go back to my hotel room,” McDougal said, adding that seeing his home “made it more real.”
McDougal said she met Melania once at an Apprentice release party at the Playboy Mansion and was even in a group photo with her. But McDougal kept her distance from the future first lady “because I felt guilty.”
Cooper asked whether Melania knew of the affair. McDougal replied that she was told Trump and his wife were arguing that night. She said she asked why they were fighting, and someone told her, “Probably because of you.”
McDougal said she met all of Trump’s children, except for Barron, who was only a baby.
Trump often talked about how proud he was of his daughter, Ivanka, and allegedly compared McDougal to her, she said. “He’s very proud of Ivanka, as he should be. She’s a brilliant woman. She’s beautiful. That’s his daughter and he should be proud of her.
“He said I was beautiful like her. And ‘You’re a smart girl.’ There wasn’t a lot of comparing, but there was some,” McDougal said. “I heard a lot about her.” McDougal said Trump’s comments about Ivanka never seemed strange.
Meanwhile, Daniels’ claims that she slept with Trump at the July 2006 American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe surprised McDougal.
“My first thought was, ‘How could she have been with him, when I was with him?’ The only time we weren’t together on that particular trip was when he was on the golf course golfing,” McDougal said, adding that she joined him at every event.
The ex-Playmate said she remembers Trump telling her, “There were a bunch of porn stars out there. They were wanting pictures of me.” McDougal now assumes Trump had a hotel-room romp with Daniels the day McDougal left.
Asked whether she wanted to marry Trump, McDougal said, “Maybe.” Trump never told her she was his only girlfriend, she said. “But I guess if he’s doing it behind his wife’s back, why would he not do it behind my back?”
“I thought I was the only one,” she said.
Under questioning by Cooper, McDougal said she didn’t preserve text messages or photos. “Let me just say this. If you’re in a loving relationship, do you try and collect evidence?” she replied. She only kept notes in her journal, she said.
McDougal said she saw Trump a minimum of five times a month and that they were intimate “many dozens of times.” They discussed using condoms but decided against using them, she said.
Eventually, she said she ended the relationship.
She spoke to him again in 2009, when he got her and a boyfriend a room at the Trump hotel in Las Vegas. But she didn’t consider rekindling the relationship because he was married. “I would never do that again,” McDougal said.
The fitness model said she never thought about spilling her story but that the media contacted her in 2011. “I for the life of me couldn’t figure out who would leak something like this,” McDougal said. She denied the affair.
“When you have feelings in a relationship and you cared about somebody, why would you want to destroy their life any more than you might have already destroyed their life?” McDougal said of why she never tried to sell her account.
But in 2016, as Trump vied for the Republican presidential nomination, McDougal said she reconsidered keeping her story secret. She said she was watching the GOP debate with her friend “Johnny”—likely John Crawford, who is named in her lawsuit—who encouraged her to go public.
A week or two later, McDougal saw an old friend posting on Twitter about her relationship with Trump and decided she needed to come forward, she said.
McDougal found attorney Keith Davidson, known for selling celebrity sex tapes and stories, and who she claims colluded with Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen when negotiating her hush agreement with AMI.
According to McDougal, Davidson told her that her story was worth “many, many millions” and brought her to AMI.
McDougal said she wanted “to get my truth out there.” She added, “I wasn’t looking for money, clearly, but when he said it’s worth many millions, I’m like, you know...” Cooper suggested the cash was hard to pass up, and McDougal replied, “Sure. But if you fast forward, I ended up not wanting to do that deal” and went to ABC News for no compensation.
McDougal said she got “cold feet” about speaking to ABC News. “I wanted to keep it a very private matter, because it was private between us at the time,” McDougal said of Trump, adding that she felt a sense of loyalty.
After Trump became the Republican nominee, AMI was again interested in buying the rights to McDougal’s story. Ultimately, AMI allegedly offered McDougal a fitness column and magazine covers in exchange for her silence.
As previously reported, McDougal was offered $150,000, and 45 percent of the fee went to Davidson, her attorney. She said she thought it was a win: The story would be kept secret and her brand would be preserved as wholesome, and she’d also jumpstart a new magazine career.
She said she didn’t realize that, behind the scenes, AMI was plotting a “catch and kill” of her story.
Cooper asked if McDougal thought Trump was aware of the deal. “One of the big complaints with why I think my contract is illegal is because his attorney was talking to my attorney,” McDougal said, referring to Cohen, “without me even knowing.”
When Cooper suggested Cohen shouldn’t have been involved in the agreement, since Trump wasn’t a party to the deal, McDougal agreed. “So why was he involved in my deal? And why wasn’t I told that he was involved in my deal?” McDougal said. “That’s not fair, and it’s quite frankly illegal. It’s wrong.”
The contract McDougal signed was done quickly, she said. She told her attorney she’d sign it in about a week since she was going out of town, but he allegedly pressed her, saying the paperwork needed to be signed that night or the next day.
Looking back, McDougal said she assumes the hush agreement was only requested because of the presidential election.
Still, McDougal doesn’t believe news of the affair would have damaged Trump’s presidential hopes. “You’ve seen the other stories about him,” she said. “It didn’t hurt him. Could it have been damaging politically speaking? Probably not.”
McDougal said she’s a Republican who voted for Trump and that she had no reason to damage his reputation.
She was most excited about writing for health and fitness magazines, she said. She claimed she probably wouldn’t have sold her story for millions anyway. “It’s a lot of money, but you also have your conscience,” McDougal said.
McDougal said she was “disgusted” by the Access Hollywood tape that revealed Trump’s infamous “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments.
“I had not seen that in him at all. He was respectful, he was a gentleman,” she said, adding, “I didn’t see that side of him until I started watching TV. That’s not the man that I knew. So I was kind of disgusted.”
It wasn’t just locker-room talk, she said.
McDougal also said she was mortified by the many accusations of sexual misconduct against Trump. “Clearly, you know, women have their stories and their opinions, and if they were violated like that, they should come forward,” she said.
Cooper brought up a recent statement from AMI, which claims it is not stopping McDougal from sharing her story. McDougal responded, “But according to their attorney, I can’t. That would be financial ruin.”
Nearly a year after the election, AMI’s CEO, David Pecker, reportedly took McDougal to lunch to thank her for her loyalty. (The sit-down with Pecker, who is a buddy of Trump, was described in the New Yorker exposé, too.)
When Cooper asked what Pecker meant by “loyalty,” McDougal said, “I thought to AMI. I don’t know exactly what he meant by that. But I think it’s probably maybe a combination of both. I don’t know.”
McDougal feels scared and threatened, she said, but that she has to stand up for herself. “I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes. So I’m quite mad at that. I’m angry. I feel taken advantage of, in a sense,” she said.
She said she filed the lawsuit to get her “life rights back.”
“I want to share my truth, because everyone else is talking about my truth. I need to share my story. Everyone else is talking about it,” she said.
McDougal said she’s offered to return the $150,000 she received from AMI. But she hinted that more could be revealed. “The story’s out there now,” McDougal said. “I’m not telling the nitty-gritty details, as you can see. I’m very selective about what I’m saying about our relationship.”
She wants the promises AMI made to be fulfilled, she said. (According to her lawsuit, McDougal’s agreement called for two years of weekly posts in an online magazine, as well as monthly feature articles in print. She would also be featured on two covers.)
“I’ve gotten really nothing out of this,” McDougal said, adding. “It was fake. They didn’t want to help me. I thought they wanted to keep my reputation clean, from what they said. They wanted to rebrand me.”
McDougal said AMI and her lawyer made empty promises.
“They keep dangling the carrot,” she said. “But I’m not playing that game anymore.”
McDougal gave a nod to Daniels, saying the adult-film actress’ openness made it easier for her to come forward.
Her only regret, she said, was that Trump was married.
Cooper asked, “If Melania Trump was watching this, what would you want her to know?”
“That’s a tough one,” McDougal said. “What can you say except, ‘I’m sorry’? I’m sorry. I wouldn’t want it done to me. I’m sorry.”