Weaving Together The Story of the National Enquirer’s Extortion of Jeff Bezos
It’s hard to oversell this story. It really does have it all. Sex, money (lots of it), Presidential politics (and sex), murder most foul, legal intrigue that includes blackmail of a billionaire, possible international intrigue, and hush money payoffs to a Playboy Bunny and a porn star. It’s all here.
On January 9, 2019 Amazon Founder (and owner of The Washington Post), billionaire Jeff Bezos, announced that he and his wife had been estranged for some time and would be divorcing. The next day The National Enquirer published details of Bezos’s affair with Lauren Sanchez, a Los Angeles based TV news anchor. The Enquirer article included text messages between the two.
President Trump, who has long despised Bezos for his ownership of The Washington Post, was quick to gleefully pounce on Bezos’s misfortune. Trump made a point to boost the credibility of The National Enquirer while doing so.
Bezos hired an investigator named Gavin de Becker to discover how The Enquirer was able to get his text messages. This investigator was behind stories appearing at the end of January in The Daily Beast suggesting Lauren Sanchez’s brother, Michael Sanchez, was behind the leak, and that The National Enquirer’s reporting was politically motivated. The Daily Beast article pointed to Michael Sanchez’s connections to Trump Campaigners Roger Stone and Carter Page.
One of the key players in this is David Pecker, the CEO of AMI, the parent company for The National Enquirer. Apparently AMI became aware that The Washington Post was planning its own story regarding The National Enquirer’s political motivations. Stories suggesting such political motivations for the Enquirer have been in the media for quite some time. I myself detailed A New Kind of Collusion between Trump and the Enquirer. In another article (that seems particularly prescient now) I suggested The National Enquirer was really just an extortion racket. I wrote:
“Was the National Enquirer ultimately just an extortion racket? One that selected favored celebrities, (often influential politicians) to protect, while raking those who refused to play the game over the gossip coals? . . . There’s a basic question. Why would a tabloid, built upon reporting scandal and gossip, provide such positive coverage, as reflected in these covers, of a man replete with scandal and gossip? Something else had to be going on here, and it was. The Enquirer was secretly buying the President of the United States. They had dirt on him that they withheld from the American people, so they could exploit that later. What additional price did Pecker have in mind for Trump — and America — to pay?
David Pecker and AMI did not end those dirty games with Trump. Just as they tried to kill the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal Donald Trump affair stories (and were successful until after the election), they tried to kill the upcoming Washington Post story about the National Enquirer’s political motivations behind its stories. Something about this story is obviously different than the others, prompting a near-panic reaction from AMI to kill it.
AMI Tries To Extort Bezos And Bezos Blows It Up In AMI’s Face
AMI attempted to blackmail Jeff Bezos. The deal was quite simple, and in writing (email). Bezos, as owner of The Washington Post, would kill the story about The National Enquirer’s political motivations and The National Enquirer would withhold from publication embarrassing text pictures it had somehow acquired related to Bezos’s affair. The content of these pictures are described in lurid detail by AMI in an email to Bezos’s attorney. They include the all too common “dick pic,” and pictures of the two lovers in little clothing.
Given the incredibly compromising nature of the pictures, AMI was likely confident this extortion would succeed. As AMI’s attorney put it at the end of detailing the nature of the pictures, “I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly.”
In another email where AMI detailed its proposed deal, the essential parts read as follows:
Here are our proposed terms:
1. A full and complete mutual release of all claims that American Media, on the one hand, and Jeff Bezos and Gavin de Becker (the “Bezos Parties”), on the other, may have against each other.
2. A public, mutually-agreed upon acknowledgment from the Bezos Parties, released through a mutually-agreeable news outlet, affirming that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces, and an agreement that they will cease referring to such a possibility.
3. AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos (the “Unpublished Materials”).
As you can see from #2, AMI demanded that The Washington Post not only cease publication of its article detailing The National Enquirer’s political motivations, but also to affirmatively repudiate that there was any basis for such a story. Interestingly, Jon Fine, the AMI attorney who sent this demand, previously worked for Amazon. My wife, who is a novelist, met him briefly in that capacity at a writer’s convention some years ago.
In demanding that Bezos/WaPo “affirmatively publicize that specific lie” (as Bezos put it) it seems AMI overreached. Instead of succumbing to the blackmail, Bezos publicized the entire effort to extort him, right down to quoting the extorting emails from AMI. He did so in an article on Medium entitled, “No Thank You, Mr. Pecker.” It’s a remarkable read.
In those emails, “American Media emphatically rejects any assertion that its reporting was instigated, dictated or influenced in any manner by external forces, political or otherwise.” That’s nice. The same organization said the same thing regarding its gushing coverage of Trump before admitting it conspired with Donald Trump to catch and kill embarrassing stories about him to help his campaign for President.
The Washington Post will now certainly publish that story AMI tried so desperately to censor. At that point we will likely discover why AMI was so reckless when attempting to suppress the story. The WaPo story will undoubtedly get even more attention now, due to AMI’s efforts to suppress it.
The attempted extortion was not without risk. Some have suggested it may jeopardize AMI’s non-prosecution agreement with Mueller’s team.
The suggestion in The Daily Beast seems rather straightforward. Michael Sanchez, the brother of Bezos’s mistress, somehow got the texts from her phone. He then worked with likes of Trump dirty trickster Roger Stone to get it to the National Enquirer.
But that answer does not seem to explain the extreme risks AMI took to not only kill the WaPo story, but to force WaPo to repudiate it. Therein is the central question we face today. What made this risk worthwhile for AMI? What could?
Bezos himself suggests it is something bigger, involving Saudi Arabia. Bezos states:
“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 notes, “The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.” That brutal murder of a Washington Post journalist was carried out by the Saudi government itself. Bezos also cites a NY Times article that details David Pecker’s close relationship with Saudis and how Trump “rewarded” Pecker’s loyalty with a White House dinner. Pecker “brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia” to that dinner.
So Bezos himself draws a possible connection in all this to Khashoggi’s murder, Donald Trump and Saudis. What exactly that connection is remains to be seen.
The McDougal Mystery
I wonder if this eventually clears up one of the enduring mysteries of the Karen McDougal/Stormy Daniels payments. Michael Cohen paid Daniels her hush money and then recovered it by billing Trump’s company for sham “retainer fees.” However, the McDougal payment is quite a different story.
As I previously wrote, McDougal was paid by AMI itself, with the understanding that Trump would repay. AMI even billed Cohen for the amount. However, both Team Mueller and Cohen’s attorney say AMI was never repaid by Trump or his organization. In his sentencing memorandum, Cohen’s attorney enigmatically says:
As the matter unfolded, the contract was profitable for AMI, and President Trump's failure to reimburse AMI was ultimately not contested by AMI.
It is never explained how “the contract was profitable for AMI,” absent payment by anyone from Trump’s side, for buying McDougal’s silence. I am left to wonder if the mystery “profit” came from a business deal David Pecker struck with Trump’s friends in Saudi Arabia. Friends who then called in the chip Trump owed them, demanding his tepid response to Khashoggi’s murder — a form of “blood money” this administration owed to Saudi Arabia.
Obviously there is a lot of speculation in what I am suggesting as possible. However, I note that House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Adam Schiff announced a sweeping investigation of potential foreign influence in the Trump Campaign and administration just the day before the Bezos story broke. Schiff stated the investigation will pertain “to any credible allegations of leverage by the Russians or the Saudis or anyone else.”