'Enquirer' denies Bezos pictures threat was extortion or blackmail
The 'National Enquirer' committed neither extortion nor blackmail by threatening to publish intimate photos of Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, a lawyer for the tabloid insists.
Elkan Abromowitz, a lawyer for American Media Inc chief executive David Pecker, said a "reliable source" well known to Mr Bezos and his mistress provided the story about the billionaire's extramarital affair.
Mr 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. AMI also wanted Mr Bezos to publicly declare that coverage of him by the 'Enquirer' was not politically motivated. Mr Bezos also owns 'The Washington Post'.
Mr Bezos's investigators have suggested coverage of the affair by the 'Enquirer' 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.
Mr Trump has been highly critical of Mr Bezos over his ownership of the 'Post' and Amazon, and coverage of the White House by the 'Post'.
Federal prosecutors are looking into whether the 'Enquirer' violated a co-operation and non-prosecution agreement that recently spared the gossip sheet from charges for paying hush money to a 'Playboy' model who claimed she had an affair with Mr Trump.
But asked during an interview with ABC's 'This Week' whether he was concerned the Bezos matter could jeopardise the non-cooperation agreement, Mr Abramowitz said: "Absolutely not."
Mr 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," Mr 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."
Mr Bezos's affair became public when the 'Enquirer' published a story on January 9 about his relationship with Ms Sanchez, who is also married. Mr Bezos then hired a team of private investigators to find out how the tabloid got the texts and photos the two exchanged.
Mr Bezos's investigators, led by security consultant Gavin de Becker, have focused on Sanchez's brother, according to sources. Michael Sanchez is his sister's manager, a Trump supporter and an acquaintance of Trump allies Roger Stone and Carter Page.
Mr Abramowitz would not comment when asked whether Mr Sanchez was the source for the 'Enquirer' but said: "Bezos and Ms Sanchez knew who the source was."
Mr Sanchez has declined to speak to the media. In a January 31 tweet, he said, without evidence, that Mr de Becker "spreads fake, unhinged conservative conspiracy theories".
After Mr Bezos last 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 at least one other prominent journalist" 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".
Mr 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 Mr Trump's White House campaign by paying $150,000 to 'Playboy' centrefold Karen McDougal for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with Mr Trump. The company then buried the story until after the 2016 election.
Mr Trump's long-time personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty last year to charges that included helping to broker that transaction.
As part of a non-prosecution agreement in that case, AMI promised not to break the law.