What we know about Bezos' letter accusing National Enquirer parent of blackmail




 

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos published an explosive letter Thursday accusing National Enquirer parent company American Media Inc. of extortion and blackmail.

In the letter, Bezos accuses the Enquirer and AMI of a plot to publish racy images of Bezos and love interest Lauren Sanchez in exchange for statements saying their investigation into the duo's relationship was not politically motivated.

"Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I've decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten," wrote Bezos in a blog post published on Medium.

Here what you need to know about the battle between Bezos and the Enquirer:

It started with an alleged affair

On January 9, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie announced they were divorcing after 25 years of marriage.

Days later, the Enquirer published a four-month investigation claiming Bezos was in a relationship with Sanchez, a former Fox L.A. TV anchor, citing a series of text messages shared between the two.

More: Jeff Bezos is taking on the National Enquirer. Here's a look at the key players

After the story was published, Bezos - whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $160 billion - said he retained investigator Gavin de Becker to determine how the Enquirer got a hold of his texts. "I've known Mr. de Becker for twenty years, his expertise in this arena is excellent, and he's one of the smartest and most capable leaders I know," said Bezos in his letter.

Bezos' accusations

In his post on Medium, Bezos shares an email exchange with Martin Singer and AMI chief content officer Dylan Howard dated February 5. Singer is a lawyer retained by Bezos' investigator de Becker. Howard, according to the exchange, said the Enquirer had obtained racy images of both Bezos and Sanchez.

According to Bezos, a subsequent email sent February 6 from Jon Fine, deputy general counsel at AMI, said the Enquirer would not publish the additional texts or photos if Bezos made a statement he had no knowledge suggesting AMI's coverage of the relationship was politically motivated.

"These communications cement AMI's long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism," wrote Bezos.

How has AMI responded?

In a statement released Friday, the company said it would "promptly and thoroughly" investigate the claims and take action as necessary.

"American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos," said the 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."

Why the claims of political motivations matter

In July, an audio recording obtained by CNN reportedly showed President Donald Trump and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, discussing payment to a former Playboy model who claims to have had an affair with Trump. Cohen refers to a "David" believed to be David Pecker, the CEO of AMI. The company had paid ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for her story about her alleged affair with Trump, but never published it. Both sides settled a lawsuit over the arrangement in April.

Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison and had planned to testify before Congress this week as part of special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. Cohen postponed his testimony citing "threats" from the president.

In December, federal prosecutors say AMI admitted paying off an unnamed former Playboy model to suppress publication of her claims of an affair they believed would threaten Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. The details were outlined as part of a nonprosecution agreement between the Justice Department and AMI. The filing by prosecutors said Pecker, a longtime friend of Trump, "offered to help deal with negative stories" that could hurt Trump's run for the White House.

Trump and Bezos have history

In his letter, Bezos notes his ownership of The Washington Post as a "complexifier" potentially positioning him as an enemy to powerful people including Trump, who has repeatedly referred to the paper as the "Amazon Washington Post."

While speaking to Fox host Sean Hannity in an interview in May 2016, Trump said Bezos was using his purchase of The Post to protect Amazon's monopoly, claiming he has "a huge anti-trust problem."

More recently, Trump mocked Bezos as "Jeff Bozo" in a tweet last month.

In October 2016, during an event hosted by magazine Vanity Fair, Bezos criticized Trump's campaign, saying it "erodes our democracy." He even joked about sending Trump into space through his aerospace company Blue Origin. "I have a rocket company, so the capability is there." Bezos later changed his tune, offering his congratulations and "my most open mind" after Trump won the election.

What's the Saudi connection?

Bezos references the Post's coverage of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist killed inside a Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey last year. Although Trump has condemned the murder, he remains close to the Saudi family and has questioned claims from intelligence implicating the Saudis in his murder. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers pushed legislation to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia to hold them accountable for Khashoggi's death.

According to Bezos, a representative from AMI said Pecker was "apoplectic" about the investigation into the Enquirer story. "For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve," said Bezos.

In March 2018, The New York Times published a story claiming Pecker turned to Trump to help cement a relationship with the Saudis to grow his businesses. AMI also published a 97-page magazine that same month in support of Saudi Arabia, which the company allegedly shared with Saudi officials about three weeks before publication, The Associated Press reports.

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What we know about Bezos' letter accusing National Enquirer parent of blackmail

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