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Tabloid publisher says he pledged to be Trump campaign's 'eyes and ears' during 2016 race

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Tabloid publisher says he pledged to be Trump campaign's 'eyes and ears' during 2016 race
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Tabloid publisher says he pledged to be Trump campaign's 'eyes and ears' during 2016 race

2024-04-24 09:25 Last Updated At:09:30

NEW YORK (AP) — A veteran tabloid publisher testified Tuesday that he pledged to be Donald Trump 's “eyes and ears" during his 2016 presidential campaign, recounting how he promised the then-candidate that he would help suppress harmful stories and even arranged to purchase the silence of a doorman.

The testimony from David Pecker was designed to bolster the prosecution's premise of a decades-long friendship between Trump and the former publisher of the National Enquirer that culminated in an agreement to give the candidate's lawyer a heads-up on negative tips and stories so they could be quashed.

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Former president Donald Trump, left, watches as David Pecker answers questions on the witness stand, far right, from assistant district attorney Joshua Steingless, in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — A veteran tabloid publisher testified Tuesday that he pledged to be Donald Trump 's “eyes and ears" during his 2016 presidential campaign, recounting how he promised the then-candidate that he would help suppress harmful stories and even arranged to purchase the silence of a doorman.

Former President Donald Trump speaks after leaving Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump speaks after leaving Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump speaks after leaving Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump speaks after leaving Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump gestures while he walks in Manhattan criminal court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump gestures while he walks in Manhattan criminal court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump walks in Manhattan criminal court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump walks in Manhattan criminal court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump returns to the courtroom after a recess in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump returns to the courtroom after a recess in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while he walks, as his criminal trial over charges that he allegedly falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 continues, at Manhattan state court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while he walks, as his criminal trial over charges that he allegedly falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 continues, at Manhattan state court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Judge Juan Merchan presides over Donald Trump's trial in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Judge Juan Merchan presides over Donald Trump's trial in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Defense attorney Todd Blanche, at podium, makes arguments challenging the contempt charges to Judge Juan Merchan , Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Defense attorney Todd Blanche, at podium, makes arguments challenging the contempt charges to Judge Juan Merchan , Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Former President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan criminal court on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in New York. (Curtis Means/DailyMail.com via AP, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan criminal court on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in New York. (Curtis Means/DailyMail.com via AP, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former US President Donald Trump, left, standing next to lawyer Todd Blanche, speaks to the press as he arrives at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, Tuesday April 23, 2024. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (Timothy A. Clary/Pool via AP)

Former US President Donald Trump, left, standing next to lawyer Todd Blanche, speaks to the press as he arrives at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, Tuesday April 23, 2024. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (Timothy A. Clary/Pool via AP)

Former president Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump talks to reporters at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump talks to reporters at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump walks in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump walks in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former US President Donald Trump, right, sitting next to lawyer Todd Blanche, attends his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, Tuesday April 23, 2024. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (Timothy A. Clary/Pool via AP)

Former US President Donald Trump, right, sitting next to lawyer Todd Blanche, attends his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, Tuesday April 23, 2024. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (Timothy A. Clary/Pool via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump walks next to his attorney Todd Blanche, at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump walks next to his attorney Todd Blanche, at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

The effort was a way to illegally influence the election, prosecutors have alleged in striving to elevate the gravity of the history-making first trial of a former American president and the first of four criminal cases against Trump to reach a jury. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee in this year's race faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with hush money payments meant to stifle embarrassing stories from surfacing in the final days of the 2016 campaign.

With Trump sitting just feet away in the courtroom, Pecker, the first witness, detailed his behind-the-scenes role in Trump's rise from political novice to the Republican nomination and the White House. He explained how he and the National Enquirer parlayed rumor-mongering into splashy tabloid stories that smeared Trump's opponents and, just as crucially, leveraged his connections to suppress seamy stories about Trump, including a porn actor's claim of an extramarital sexual encounter years earlier.

Pecker traced the origins of their relationship to a 1980s meeting at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and said the friendship bloomed alongside the success of the real estate developer's TV show “The Apprentice" and the program's subsequent celebrity version.

Their ties were solidified during a pivotal August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower involving Trump, his lawyer and personal fixer Michael Cohen, and another aide, Hope Hicks, in which Pecker was asked what he and the publications he led could do for the campaign.

Pecker said he volunteered to publish positive stories about Trump and negative stories about his opponents. But that wasn't all, he said, telling jurors how he told Trump: “I will be your eyes and ears.”

“I said that anything I hear in the marketplace, if I hear anything negative about yourself, or if I hear anything about women selling stories, I would notify Michael Cohen," so that the rights could be purchased and the stories could be killed.

“So that they would not get published, you mean?” asked prosecutor Joshua Steinglass.

“So that they would not get published, yes” Pecker replied.

To illustrate their point, prosecutors displayed a screenshot of various flattering headlines the National Enquirer published about Trump, including “Donald Dominates!’ and “World Exclusive: The Donald Trump Nobody Knows.” The jury was also shown disparaging and outlandish stories about Trump's opponents, including surgeon Ben Carson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Pecker painted Cohen as a shadow editor of the National Enquirer’s pro-Trump coverage, directing the tabloid to go after whichever Republican candidate was gaining momentum.

“I would receive a call from Michael Cohen, and he would direct me and direct Dylan Howard on which candidate and which direction we should go,” Pecker said, referring to the tabloid's then-editor.

Pecker said he underscored to Howard that the agreement with the Trump operation was “highly, highly confidential.” He said he wanted the tabloid’s bureau chiefs to be on the lookout for any stories involving Trump and said he wanted them to verify the stories before alerting Cohen.

“I did not want anyone else to know about this agreement I had and what I wanted to do,” the ex-publisher added.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges related to his role in the hush money payments. He was once a confidant of Trump's, but their relationship deteriorated in spectacular fashion. Cohen is expected to be a star government witness, and he routinely posts profane broadsides against Trump on social media.

Trump's lawyers are expected to make attacks on Cohen's credibility a foundation of their defense, but in opening with Pecker, prosecutors hoped to focus attention on a witness with a less volatile backstory. Besides maintaining that Trump is innocent, Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told jurors that Cohen cannot be trusted and has “an obsession with getting Trump.”

Pecker's testimony Tuesday followed a hearing earlier in the day in which prosecutors urged Judge Juan M. Merchan to hold Trump in contempt and fine him $1,000 for each of 10 social media posts that they say violated an earlier gag order barring attacks on witnesses, jurors and others involved in the case.

Merchan did not immediately rule, but he seemed skeptical of defense arguments that Trump was merely responding in his posts to others' attacks and had been trying to comply with the order.

Prosecutors allege that Trump sought to illegally influence the 2016 race through a practice known in the tabloid industry as “catch-and-kill” — catching a potentially damaging story by buying the rights to it and then killing it through agreements that prevent the paid person from telling the story to anyone else.

In this case, that included a $130,000 payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels to silence her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter that Trump denies. Prosecutors also described other arrangements, including one that paid a former Playboy model $150,000 to suppress claims of a nearly yearlong affair with the married Trump, which Trump also denies.

In another instance, Pecker recounted a $30,000 payment from the National Enquirer to a Trump Tower doorman for the rights to a rumor that Trump had fathered a child with an employee at Trump World Tower. The tabloid concluded the story was not true, and the woman and Trump have denied the allegations.

As Pecker described receiving the tip in court, Trump shook his head.

Pecker said upon hearing the rumor, he immediately called Cohen, who said it was “absolutely not true” but that he would look into whether the people involved had indeed worked for Trump’s company.

“I made the decision to buy the story because of the potential embarrassment it had to the campaign and Mr. Trump,” Pecker said.

When he told Cohen, Pecker said he thanked him, "And he said that the boss would be very pleased.”

Asked by the prosecutor who he understood the boss to be, Pecker replied: “Donald Trump.”

Explaining why he decided to have the National Enquirer foot the bill, Pecker recalled telling Cohen: “This can be a very big story. I believe it's important that it be removed from the marketplace.”

If he published the story, Pecker said it would be “probably the biggest sale of the National Enquirer since the death of Elvis Presley.”

Jurors viewed an internal Enquirer email and invoice describing the payments to the doorman to kill his story. One document describes the funds coming from the publication’s “corporate” account. An invoice references an “immediate” $30,000 bank transfer payment for “‘Trump’ non-published story.”

Trump's 34 felony counts arise from reimbursements that prosecutors say Trump's company made to Cohen for hush money payments and that were falsely recorded as legal expenses.

The charges are punishable by up to four years in prison, though it’s unclear whether Merchan would seek to put him behind bars. A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Testimony resumes on Thursday.

Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

Follow the AP's coverage of former President Donald Trump at https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump.

Former president Donald Trump, left, watches as David Pecker answers questions on the witness stand, far right, from assistant district attorney Joshua Steingless, in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Former president Donald Trump, left, watches as David Pecker answers questions on the witness stand, far right, from assistant district attorney Joshua Steingless, in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Former President Donald Trump speaks after leaving Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump speaks after leaving Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump speaks after leaving Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump speaks after leaving Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump gestures while he walks in Manhattan criminal court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump gestures while he walks in Manhattan criminal court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump walks in Manhattan criminal court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump walks in Manhattan criminal court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump returns to the courtroom after a recess in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump returns to the courtroom after a recess in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while he walks, as his criminal trial over charges that he allegedly falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 continues, at Manhattan state court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while he walks, as his criminal trial over charges that he allegedly falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 continues, at Manhattan state court in New York, Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Judge Juan Merchan presides over Donald Trump's trial in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Judge Juan Merchan presides over Donald Trump's trial in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Defense attorney Todd Blanche, at podium, makes arguments challenging the contempt charges to Judge Juan Merchan , Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Defense attorney Todd Blanche, at podium, makes arguments challenging the contempt charges to Judge Juan Merchan , Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Former President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan criminal court on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in New York. (Curtis Means/DailyMail.com via AP, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan criminal court on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in New York. (Curtis Means/DailyMail.com via AP, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former US President Donald Trump, left, standing next to lawyer Todd Blanche, speaks to the press as he arrives at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, Tuesday April 23, 2024. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (Timothy A. Clary/Pool via AP)

Former US President Donald Trump, left, standing next to lawyer Todd Blanche, speaks to the press as he arrives at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, Tuesday April 23, 2024. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (Timothy A. Clary/Pool via AP)

Former president Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump talks to reporters at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump talks to reporters at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump walks in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump walks in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former US President Donald Trump, right, sitting next to lawyer Todd Blanche, attends his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, Tuesday April 23, 2024. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (Timothy A. Clary/Pool via AP)

Former US President Donald Trump, right, sitting next to lawyer Todd Blanche, attends his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, Tuesday April 23, 2024. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (Timothy A. Clary/Pool via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 23, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump waits for the start of proceedings in Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, in New York. Before testimony resumes Tuesday, the judge will hold a hearing on prosecutors' request to sanction and fine Trump over social media posts they say violate a gag order prohibiting him from attacking key witnesses. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump walks next to his attorney Todd Blanche, at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump walks next to his attorney Todd Blanche, at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy democracies have agreed to engineer a $50 billion loan to help Ukraine in its fight for survival. Interest earned on profits from Russia’s frozen central bank assets would be used as collateral.

Details of the deal were being hashed out by G7 leaders at their summit in Italy. The money could reach Kyiv before the end of the year, according to U.S. and French officials.

President Joe Biden told reporters at a news conference Thursday that the move was part of a “historic agreement.” Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said providing a loan through Russia's assets "is a vital step forward in providing sustainable support for Ukraine in winning this war."

Here's how the plan would work:

Most of the money would be in the form of a loan mostly guaranteed by the U.S. government, backed by profits being earned on roughly $260 billion in immobilized Russian assets. The vast majority of that money is held in European Union nations.

A French official said the loan could be “topped up” with European money or contributions from other countries.

A U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the agreement said the G7 leaders' official statement due out Friday will leave the door open to trying to confiscate the Russian assets entirely.

That's much harder to do.

For more than a year, officials from multiple countries have debated the legality of confiscating the money and sending it to Ukraine.

The U.S. and its allies immediately froze whatever Russian central bank assets they had access to when Moscow invaded Ukraine in 2022. That basically was money being held in banks outside Russia.

The assets are immobilized and cannot be accessed by Moscow, but they still belong to Russia.

While governments can generally freeze property or funds without difficulty, turning them into forfeited assets that can be used for the benefit of Ukraine requires an extra layer of judicial procedure, including a legal basis and adjudication in a court.

The EU instead has set aside the profits being generated by the frozen assets. That pot of money is easier to access.

Separately, the U.S. this year passed a law called the REPO Act — short for the Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity for Ukrainians Act — that allows the Biden administration to seize $5 billion in Russian state assets in the U.S. and use them for the benefit of Kyiv. That arrangement is being worked out.

It will be up to technical experts to work through the details.

Ukraine will be able to spend the money in several areas, including for military, economic and humanitarian needs and reconstruction, the U.S. official said.

Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the goal is “to provide the necessary resources to Ukraine now for its economic energy and other needs so that it's capable of having the resilience necessary to withstand Russia's continuing aggression.”

Another goal is to get the money to Ukraine quickly.

The French official, who was not authorized to be publicly named according to French presidential policy, said the details could be worked out "very quickly and in any case, the $50 billion will be disbursed before the end of 2024.”

Beyond the costs of the war, the needs are great.

The World Bank’s latest damage assessment of Ukraine, released in February, estimates that costs for reconstruction and recovery of the nation stand at $486 billion over the next 10 years.

The move to unlock Russia's assets comes after there was a long delay in Washington by Congress in approving military aid for Ukraine.

At an Atlantic Council event previewing the G7 summit, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, John Herbst, said “the fact that American funding is not quite reliable is a very important additional reason to go that route.”

If Russia regained control of its frozen assets or if the immobilized funds were not generating enough interest to pay back the loan, "then the question of burden-sharing arises,” according to the French official.

Max Bergmann, director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said last week that there were worries among European finance ministers that their countries “will be left holding the bag if Ukraine defaults.”

Some nations are critical of the plan to seize Russian assets.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu told The Associated Press that the U.S. is "fueling the fight and inciting confrontation.”

“We urge the U.S. to immediately stop slapping illegal unilateral sanctions and play a constructive role in ending the conflict and restoring peace.”

Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Darlene Superville in Fasano, Italy, and Colleen Long aboard Air Force One en route to Italy contributed to this report.

U.S. President Joe Biden, right, and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talk to journalists during a news conference after signing a bilateral security agreement during the sidelines of the G7 summit at Savelletri, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

U.S. President Joe Biden, right, and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talk to journalists during a news conference after signing a bilateral security agreement during the sidelines of the G7 summit at Savelletri, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, leave after signing a bilateral security agreement on the sidelines of the G7, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Savelletri, Italy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, leave after signing a bilateral security agreement on the sidelines of the G7, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Savelletri, Italy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, shake hands after signing a security agreement on the sidelines of the G7, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Savelletri, Italy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, shake hands after signing a security agreement on the sidelines of the G7, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Savelletri, Italy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talks to journalists during a news conference after signing a bilateral security agreement with U.S. President Joe Biden during the sidelines of the G7 summit at Savelletri, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talks to journalists during a news conference after signing a bilateral security agreement with U.S. President Joe Biden during the sidelines of the G7 summit at Savelletri, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

U.S. President Joe Biden listens to a question during a news conference after signing a bilateral security agreement with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the sidelines of the G7 summit at Savelletri, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

U.S. President Joe Biden listens to a question during a news conference after signing a bilateral security agreement with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the sidelines of the G7 summit at Savelletri, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

From left, European Council President Charles Michel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a working session at the G7, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Borgo Egnazia, Italy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

From left, European Council President Charles Michel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a working session at the G7, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Borgo Egnazia, Italy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)

U.S. President Joe Biden arrives to a G7 world leaders summit at Borgo Egnazia, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

U.S. President Joe Biden arrives to a G7 world leaders summit at Borgo Egnazia, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

From left, European Council President Charles Michel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stand for a group photo at the G7, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Borgo Egnazia, Italy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

From left, European Council President Charles Michel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stand for a group photo at the G7, Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Borgo Egnazia, Italy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks, on arrival at the G7, in Borgo Egnazia, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024, (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks, on arrival at the G7, in Borgo Egnazia, Italy, Thursday, June 13, 2024, (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press via AP)

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Paris, Friday, June 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Paris, Friday, June 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden arrives on Air Force One at Brindisi International Airport, Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Brindisi, Italy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden arrives on Air Force One at Brindisi International Airport, Wednesday, June 12, 2024, in Brindisi, Italy. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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