Tabloid CEO’s lawyer de­nies En­quirer tried to ex­tort Be­zos

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Nation & World - By Michael Balsamo

WASHINGTON — 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” well-known 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 best­known 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.

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.

MAR­ION CUR­TIS/AP 2014

An at­tor­ney for AMI CEO David Pecker, above, de­nied that tabloid tried to black­mail Jeff Be­zos.

CLIFF OWEN/AP 2018

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