Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said on Thursday that the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him, with the publication allegedly threatening to publish nude photos of Bezos if the exec didn’t drop an investigation over leaked text messages that ultimately ended his marriage.
Bezos made the explosive claims in a blog post, which included multiple emails from executives of National Enquirer publisher American Media, Inc. (AMI).
AMI did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment.
In one of those emails, AMI’s chief content officer Dylan Howard describes one of the photos obtained by the publication as a “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d— pick.'” Other photos described in the email include half-dressed selfies of Bezos in a variety of situations, and photos of his new partner Lauren Sanchez that Howard described as “revealing her cleavage.”
Bezos alleges that AMI used the photos as leverage to get him to issue a statement that basically said AMI didn’t have political interests in pursuing a story about his affair. Instead of making a deal with AMI, Bezos decided to go public, writing, “If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?”
The feud between Bezos and the National Enquirer started last month, when the tabloid first published photos showing Bezos with Sanchez, which were supposedly taken before the Amazon CEO announced that he and his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie, were getting divorced. The Enquirer then followed up with leaked text messages between Bezos and Sanchez, some of which allegedly dated back to April of last year.
Bezos subsequently hired a private investigator to find the source of those leaked text messages, and determine whether the publication was looking to use stories about the alleged affair as political payback for the reporting of the Washington Post, which the Amazon CEO acquired in 2013.
“It’s unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy,” he wrote. “President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, The Post’s essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles.”
Trump has publicly attacked Bezos in Twitter posts and elsewhere, once referring to him as “Jeff Bozo.” Trump has alleged Amazon has an antitrust problem, dangling the possibility of some kind of an investigation. When the story broke about Bezos’ affair and separation from his wife, Trump said, “I wish him luck. It’s going to be a beauty.”
AMI already is embroiled in federal prosecutors’ investigation of Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen and hush-money payments made to women who claim to have had affairs with Trump.
AMI signed a non-prosecution agreement with prosecutors last year in which the company and its executives admitted to arranging for payments to model Karen McDougal to keep her from going public with her claims in the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign. AMI also admitted that in August 2015, its CEO David Pecker extended an offer to Cohen to help deal with negative stories about Trump’s relationships with women by buying up their rights and avoiding publication.
By entering into the non-prosecution agreement, AMI avoided prosecution for campaign finance violations, but that is conditioned on the company not committing any crime. What’s unclear is whether Bezos’s claims of extortion and blackmail will trigger the interest of the New York prosecutors to reassess their agreement with the publisher.
Bezos said he was at first verbally approached by AMI representatives threatening to release further photos and text messages unless he dropped his investigation, as well as the Washington Post’s reporting on the matter. When Bezos didn’t immediately respond, AMI put the threats in writing. “Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” Bezos wrote.
Update, 5:45 p.m. PT: This post was updated with additional context on AMI’s relationship with President Trump, and its cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors.