Tabloid CEO's lawyer de­nies En­quirer tried to ex­tort Be­zos

El Dorado News-Times - - Front Page -

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — The Na­tional 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" well­known to Be­zos and his mis­tress pro­vided the story about the bil­lion­aire's ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair.

Be­zos has said AMI threat­ened 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 pub­licly de­clare that the En­quirer's cov­er­age of him was not po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. Be­zos also owns The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Be­zos' in­ves­ti­ga­tors have sug­gested the En­quirer's cov­er­age of his af­fair was driven by dirty pol­i­tics, and the high-pro­file clash has pit­ted 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 co­op­er­a­tion and non­pros­e­cu­tion 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 in­ter­view with ABC's "This Week" whether he was con­cerned the Be­zos mat­ter could jeop­ar­dize the non­co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment, Abramowitz said: "Ab­so­lutely not."

Abramowitz de­fended the tabloid's han­dling of the sit­u­a­tion 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 po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, and we will print no more sto­ries."

Be­zos' af­fair be­came pub­lic when the En­quirer pub­lished 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 in­ves­ti­ga­tors, 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 au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly and spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. Michael Sanchez is his sis­ter's man­ager, a Trump sup­porter and an ac­quain­tance of Trump al­lies Ro­ger Stone and Carter 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 re­la­tion­ship and doubted the king­dom played any role in urg­ing 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' al­le­ga­tions dur­ing a round­table on Fri­day with re­porters in Wash­ing­ton.

Asked about AMI's re­cent $450 mil­lion debt re­struc­tur­ing, 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 ac­knowl­edged se­cretly as­sist­ing Trump's White House cam­paign by pay­ing $150,000 to Play­boy cen­ter­fold 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.

Trump's long­time per­sonal at­tor­ney and fixer Michael Co­hen pleaded guilty last year to charges that in­cluded help­ing to bro­ker that trans­ac­tion.

As part of a non­pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment in that case, AMI promised not to break the law. The deal re­quires top ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing Pecker and the En­quirer's ed­i­tor, Dy­lan Howard, to co­op­er­ate with fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors. A vi­o­la­tion of the agree­ment could lead to crim­i­nal charges over the McDou­gal pay­ments.

Mar­ion Cur­tis/AP

Me­dia: David Pecker, Chair­man and CEO of Amer­i­can Me­dia, ad­dresses those at­tend­ing the Shape & Men's Fit­ness Su­per Bowl Party in New York. An at­tor­ney for the head of the Na­tional En­quirer’s par­ent com­pany says the tabloid didn’t com­mit ex­tor­tion or black­mail by threat­en­ing to pub­lish Ama­zon CEO Jeff Be­zos’ ex­plicit pho­tos. Elkan Abramowitz rep­re­sents Amer­i­can Me­dia Inc. CEO David Pecker. He de­fended the tabloid’s prac­tice as a “ne­go­ti­a­tion” in an in­ter­view Sun­day with ABC News.

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