Lawyer for Enquirer CEO denies extortion of Bezos
It’s no ‘crime to ask someone to tell the truth,’ lawyer says.
The National WASHINGTON —
Enquirer committed neither extortion nor blackmail by threatening to publish intimate photos of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, an attorney for the head of the tabloid’s parent company said Sunday.
Elkan Abromowitz, an attorney for American Media Inc. chief executive David Pecker, said on Sunday a “reliable source” well-known to Bezos and his mistress provided the story about the billionaire’s extramar- ital affair.
Bezos has said AMI threat- ened to publish the explicit photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the Enquirer obtained his private exchanges with his mistress, former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez, and pub- licly declare that the Enquir- er’s coverage of him was not politically motivated. Bezos also owns The Wash- ington Post.
Bezos’ investigators have suggested the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair was driven by dirty politics, and the high-profile clash has pit- ted the world’s richest man against the leader of America’s best-known tabloid, who is a strong backer of President Donald Trump. Trump has been highly critical of Bezos over his ownership of The Washington Post and Amazon, and the Post’s coverage of the White House.
Federal prosecutors are looking into whether the Enquirer violated a coop- eration and nonprosecu- tion agreement that recently spared the gossip sheet from charges for paying hush money to a Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Trump, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday. The people weren’t authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.
But asked during an inter- view with ABC’s “This Week” whether he was concerned the Bezos matter could jeop- ardize the noncooperation agreement, Abramowitz said: “Absolutely not.”
Abramowitz defended the tabloid’s handling of the sit- uation as part of a standard legal negotiation.
“I think both Bezos and AMI had interests in resolving their interests,” Abramowitz said. “It’s absolutely not a crime to ask somebody to simply tell the truth. Tell the truth that this was not polit- ically motivated, and we will print no more stories.”
Bezos’ affair became pub- lic when the Enquirer pub- lished story on Jan. 9 about his relationship with Lauren Sanchez, who is also married. Bezos then hired a team of private investigators to find out how the tabloid got the texts and photos the two exchanged.
Bezos’ personal investi- gators, led by his security consultant Gavin de Becker, have focused on Sanchez’s brother, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person wasn’t autho- rized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on con- dition of anonymity. Michael Sanchez is his sister’s manager, a Trump supporter and an acquaintance of Trump allies Roger Stone and Car- ter Page.
Abramowitz would not comment when asked whether Michael Sanchez was the Enquirer’s source but said that “Bezos and Ms. Sanchez knew who the source was.”
Michael Sanchez has declined to speak with AP on the record. In a Jan. 31 tweet, he said without evidence that de Becker “spreads fake, unhinged conservative conspiracy theories.”
In his blog post on Thursday, Bezos alluded to a possible relationship between Saudi Arabia and AMI, but Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state of foreign affairs, said he had “no idea” about such a relation- ship and doubted the king- dom played any role in urg- ing AMI to run negative stories about Bezos. Last year, the tabloid produced a glossy magazine that included 97 pages saluting Saudi Arabia, ahead of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s arrival in the U.S. on a public relations blitz to transform his country’s image.
“It’s like a soap opera,” al-Jubeir said of Bezos’ alle- gations during a roundtable on Friday with reporters in Washington.
Asked about AMI’s recent $450 million debt restructur- ing, Abramowitz said “not a penny” of that money came from the Saudi kingdom. The company had sought financing from the Saudis but never received any, he said.
After Bezos on Thursday posted the exchanges with AMI in an extraordinary blog post on Medium.com, several celebrities and journalists posted on social media that they too had been threatened by AMI. Ronan Farrow said he and “and at least one other prominent journalist” involved in reporting on the tabloid had “fielded similar ‘stop digging or we’ll ruin you’ blackmail efforts from AMI” and actor Terry Crews alleged the company tried to “silence him” by “fabricating stories of me with prostitutes.”
Abramowitz said he didn’t know of any AMI employees blackmailing celebrities or journalists or “committing any crime at all.”
In recent months, the Trump-friendly tabloid a cknowledged secretly assisting Trump’s White House campaign by paying $150,000 to Playboy center- fold Karen McDougal for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with Trump. The company then buried the story until after the 2016 election.
David Pecker is the CEO of American Media Inc., which owns the National Enquirer. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos has accused AMI of trying to blackmail him with racy pictures from an affair.