An attorney representing David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media Inc., claimed the media company’s threat to publish nude photos of Amazon head Jeff Bezos if he didn’t cooperate with its terms was not blackmail.
“It absolutely is not extortion and not blackmail,” Elkan Abramowitz, Pecker’s attorney, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
Last month, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, announced their divorce shortly before the National Enquirer, owned by AMI, published a story revealing that the billionaire was having an affair with Lauren Sanchez, a TV personality.
The Enquirer story prompted Bezos to launch an investigation into AMI’s practices, including how it obtained his private text messages with Sanchez and its motive for publishing the story about his affair.
Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, has suggested AMI may have been politically motivated to out his affair. President Donald Trump, a friend of Pecker’s, regularly lashes out at The Washington Post’s coverage of his presidency.
Among other things, the Post has called out Trump for maintaining a relationship with Saudi Arabia despite the CIA’s belief that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
In a stunning blog post published Thursday on Medium, Bezos alleged AMI Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard told him the company had obtained several revealing photos of Bezos and Sanchez and that it was considering publishing them if he didn’t drop the investigation.
“Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation,” Bezos wrote in the blog post. “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”
AMI issued a statement Friday morning saying it launched an investigation into Bezos’ claims, though the company believes it “acted lawfully.”
“At the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him,” the statement said. “Nonetheless, in light of the nature of the allegations published by Mr. Bezos, the Board has convened and determined that it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims.”
In an interview with the Post published Tuesday, Gavin de Becker, Bezos’ investigator, suggested that Sanchez’s Trump-supporting brother, Michael Sanchez, may have leaked text messages between his sister and Bezos to the Enquirer as a “politically motivated” ploy to embarrass Bezos.
On Sunday, Pecker’s attorney Abramowitz would not confirm whether Sanchez’s brother was the source of the texts and photos, but claimed neither Trump nor Saudi Arabia was behind it. He referred to the apparent attempt to blackmail Bezos as simply a “negotiation.”
“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 about it,” Abramowitz told ABC. “It’s part of a negotiation.”
Host George Stephanopoulos fired back, “How is that journalism if you believe the photos are newsworthy? How is it journalism to say we’re not going to publish this if you give us something that we want?”
Abramowitz responded that “the story was out there.”
“There may be a different argument if we were talking about prior to the first publication, where hypothetically someone could say, ‘You give me a million dollars and we don’t publish this,’” he said. “That’s not what this is.”