Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is firing back at National Enquirer owner American Media Inc. (AMI) over what he is calling an “extortion and blackmail” attempt by the tabloid.
In a lengthy post on Medium Thursday, Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post and is also the world’s richest person, details alleged correspondence between the lawyer for his lead investigator, Martin Singer, and Dylan Howard, the chief content officer for AMI.
In emails posted by Bezos, Howard says the Enquirer would post a series of images it has of Bezos and former Los Angeles news anchor Lauren Sanchez, the Amazon founder’s love interest.
In a separate email, AMI attorney Jon Fine said that the company would not publish the unreleased emails and text if Bezos released a statement “affirming that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.” The emails also demanded Bezos and his investigator agree that they would stop “referring to such a possibility.”
The images, according to Howard’s email posted by Bezos, include a variety of private pictures of both Bezos and Sanchez such as a “below the belt selfie” of Bezos and a picture of Sanchez “smoking a cigar in what appears to be a simulated oral sex scene.”
Bezos shared the Medium post from his official Twitter account. Amazon has separately confirmed the authenticity of the post, but declined to comment further. AMI and Howard did not immediately respond to USA TODAY requests for comment.
The National Enquirer previously shared details of Bezos and Sanchez’s relationship, including romantic text messages the two had sent one another. The leak of the texts, which Bezos confirmed in his post, prompted the Amazon founder to have Gavin de Becker from his security team investigate how the Enquirer got its hands on the messages.
Bezos claims that AMI CEO David Pecker was “apoplectic” over an investigation The Washington Post was doing into Pecker and AMI’s interest in expanding to Saudi Arabia, including AMI’s publication of a pro-Saudi Arabia tabloid last year ahead of the arrival of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker’s apoplexy, we were approached, verbally at first, with an offer,” Bezos writes. “They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation.”
Bezos also notes in his blog how Pecker “recently entered into an immunity deal with the Department of Justice related to their role in the so-called “Catch and Kill” process on behalf of President Trump and his election campaign,” linking to a New York Times report that said Trump invited Pecker to a White House dinner in which the AMI CEO brought a guest that the Times describes as having “important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia.”
In his note to Bezos attorney Singer, Fine requested that the Bezos statement would be made through a “mutually-agreeable news outlet.”
In his Medium posting, Bezos said his ownership of The Washington Post has been a “complexifier” for him before continuing to say that he does not regret his 2013 purchase of the company for $250 million.
“My stewardship of The Post and my support of its mission, which will remain unswerving, is something I will be most proud of when I’m 90 and reviewing my life, if I’m lucky enough to live that long,” he writes, “regardless of any complexities it creates for me.”
The Pecker-Trump relationship
Pecker has been a longtime ally of President Donald Trump. Trump has been a longtime critic of Bezos, Amazon and the Washington Post frequently targeting all three on Twitter.
Federal prosecutors in New York have accused the company of participating in a scheme to help him win the presidency by paying women to keep silent about alleged extramarital affairs before the election. More than a year before the election, Pecker met with Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen and an unnamed member of his campaign to discuss ways the company could help bottle up damaging stories about Trump.
In August 2016, AMI struck a deal with former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal to pay her $150,000 for the rights to publish her claim to have carried on an affair with Trump a decade earlier. Prosecutors said the company’s “principal purpose in entering into the agreement was to suppress (her) story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.”
Cohen pleaded guilty last year to orchestrating that payment and another, to the pornographic actress Stormy Daniels, both of which violated federal campaign finance laws. Soon after, prosecutors promised not to bring charges against AMI in exchange for its cooperation with their investigation, one of two criminal probes now encircling the president. U.S. District Judge William Pauley said in a decision on Thursday that the probe of the campaign finance violations is ongoing.
Contributing: Brad Heath and Jefferson Graham.
Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal