On Thursday night, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, wrote a blog post accusing American Media Inc., of blackmail and extortion. Last month, the National Enquirer (owned by AMI) published a sprawling expose of Bezos’ affair with Lauren Sanchez, including salacious text messages, which ultimately led to the billionaire’s high-profile divorce.
Bezos began to investigate how the Enquirer was able to obtain the text messages. The tabloid didn’t like this very much and, according to Bezos, threatened to release sensitive images, including nude photos of Bezos, unless he called off the investigation. Rather than capitulate, Bezos published over 2,000 words exposing the ploy Thursday night, heightening intrigue around AMI’s below-board tactics and CEO David Pecker’s relationship with President Trump.
I’ve written a post about developments with the National Enquirer and its parent company, AMI. You can find it here: https://t.co/G1ykJAPPwy
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) February 7, 2019
Bezos’ post is a bold, remarkably candid account of his entanglement with AMI. After the Enquirer published its investigation last month, Bezos told his longtime personal security expert, Gavin de Becker, to look into how AMI was able to obtain his text messages. Bezos writes that he was informed by AMI that Pecker was “apoplectic” that de Becker was on the case. A few days later, Bezos says he and his lawyers were told by AMI that if de Becker didn’t stand down, the Enquirer would publish a trove of private photos they obtained, including a “below-the-belt selfie” of Bezos. AMI then put the threat in writing, which Bezos published in full. “It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly,” wrote AMI’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard.
Another email followed, laying out the exact terms to which AMI was hoping Bezos would agree. These terms involved Bezos and de Becker stating publicly that they “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
The political angle to which AMI is referring derives from Pecker’s decades-long relationship with Trump. AMI reportedly employs a “catch and kill” practice in which the company purchases the rights to an unsavory story, and Pecker allegedly has a literal safe filled with potentially damaging Trump tales. The most notable story is that of the president’s alleged affair with former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal. In December 2018, the Southern District of New York revealed in the sentencing memo for Trump’s former lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen that AMI purchased the story specifically to keep it from hurting Trump’s presidential chances. AMI admitted as much as part of a non-prosecution agreement, an agreement that also stipulated that AMI not commit additional crimes. The blackmail and extortion detailed by Bezos would certainly be of interest to federal investigators and thus could put AMI in a mess of legal jeopardy, which means Pecker really, really, really didn’t want Bezos to find out how they came across his text messages.
This has led some to speculate that the White House may have something to do with the Enquirer’s scoop.
Curiously Natl Enquirer was not trying to extort the world's richest man for $ but to stop him from trying to identify who was behind hacking of his phone. Pecker again protecting Individual 1 perhaps?
— Frank Rich (@frankrichny) February 8, 2019
Makes zero sense Pecker/AMI would risk extorting Bezos unless to stop Bezos from finding WH fingerprints on text hack. At last Trump scandals have their own Watergate break-in.
— Frank Rich (@frankrichny) February 8, 2019
Trump does not like Bezos. Not only is Bezos exponentially richer than the president, but he owns the Washington Post, which has a habit of reporting on the president’s corruption. Trump has routinely harangued Bezos on Twitter since taking office, and on several occasions has publicly advocated for measures that would hurt Bezos financially. In his post Thursday night, Bezos acknowledged that his ownership of the Post is a “complexifyer.”
“It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy,” he wrote. “President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets.”
After Bezos’ divorce became public last month, Trump could barely contain his glee. “I wish him luck,” he told reporters. “It’s going to be a beauty.” He also called Bezos “Jeff Bozo” in a tweet while praising the Enquirer’s journalistic standards. As Bezos notes in his post, no remotely legitimate journalist would even think of employing AMI’s tactics.
So sorry to hear the news about Jeff Bozo being taken down by a competitor whose reporting, I understand, is far more accurate than the reporting in his lobbyist newspaper, the Amazon Washington Post. Hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better & more responsible hands!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2019
On Tuesday, the Post — which, again, is owned by Bezos — published a story in which de Becker said he believed the Enquirer’s story began with a “politically motivated” leak and that he doesn’t believe the texts were obtained through a hack of Bezos’ phone. On Thursday, a reporter at the Post said that de Becker suspects a “government agency” intercepted the text messages.
New: Washington Post reporter just said that Bezos’ investigator suspects that “a government agency” intercepted Bezos’ text messages.
— julie k. brown (@jkbjournalist) February 8, 2019
On Friday morning, Pecker’s company denied any wrongdoing, claiming that their extortion attempts were in “good faith.”
“American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos,” AMI wrote in a statement. “Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him. Nonetheless, in light of the nature of the allegations published by Mr. Bezos, the Board has convened and determined that it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims. Upon completion of that investigation, the Board will take whatever appropriate action is necessary.”
Regardless of how AMI obtained Bezos’ text messages, if the emails published Thursday night are accurate, they offer a disturbing glimpse of how AMI operates: through blackmail, extortion, “catch and kill” and other backdoor tactics that toe the line of legality. Between Pecker, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, Trump sure seems to align himself with a lot of figures who toe that line.