A blog post this week by Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos accusing managers of the National Enquirer and its parent company American Media Inc. of extortion has prompted federal prosecutors to review a cooperation agreement AMI had with prosecutors over Trump campaign finance violations.
In a post on Medium on Thursday, Bezos, the world’s richest man, published emails from an AMI attorney and chief content officer that threatened the Amazon CEO with the publishing of additional compromising photos of Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a woman with whom Bezos had an extramarital relationship. The emails demanded that Bezos halt a private investigation of the publishing company after it published an 11-page spread on Bezos and Sanchez’s affair last month. The AMI officials also demanded that Bezos and his private investigator, Gavin de Becker, state publicly that the exposé was not politically motivated, a claim Bezos called a “lie.”
On Friday, Bloomberg reported that prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office have received information about Bezos’ blackmail and extortion claims, and plan to conduct follow-up interviews in the case.
Per the report:
The authorities are now reviewing the matter for potential criminal activity. If they find any, they must also weigh whether the conduct breached AMI’s previous deal to assist prosecutors. AMI agreed not to commit crimes as part of that deal to avoid prosecution over hush-money payments to women who claimed relationships with President Donald Trump. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, played a pivotal role in some of the payments and has pleaded guilty to related charges.
In its deal with prosecutors from the Southern District of New York last September, AMI agreed to refrain from committing additional crimes for three years in exchange for immunity over a $150,000 payment to Playboy model Karen McDougal to kill a story during the 2016 presidential campaign about an alleged affair between McDougal and Donald Trump.
Trump consigliere Michael Cohen was charged with campaign finance violations over the alleged payment, as well as a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who also allegedly had an affair with Trump. Cohen coordinated the McDougal “catch-and-kill” deal with Trump pal and AMI chief executive David Pecker, to whom Bezos’ blog post was addressed.
Bezos also raised the issue of Pecker’s apparent cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia. “Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” Bezos wrote.
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Cotter told The Washington Post that AMI’s emails could be a violation of the Hobbs Act.
“You can’t use extortion to get anything of value from someone else, even if you feel that the thing you are getting is something to which you are legally entitled,” Cotter told the newspaper.
If prosecutors choose to pursue the latest allegations, AMI and Pecker could lose their immunity deal and be exposed to prosecution.