Tabloid CEO's lawyer says Enquirer didn't extort Jeff Bezos

WASHINGTON — The National Enquirer committed neither extortion nor blackmail by threatening to publish intimate photos of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, an attorney for the head of the tabloid's parent company said Sunday.

Elkan Abromowitz, an attorney for American Media Inc. chief executive David Pecker, said on Sunday a "reliable source" well-known to Bezos and his mistress provided the story about the billionaire's extramarital affair.

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, and publicly declare that the Enquirer's coverage of him was not politically motivated. Bezos also owns The Washington Post.

Bezos' investigators have suggested the Enquirer's coverage of his affair 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. Trump has been highly critical of Bezos over his ownership of The Washington Post and Amazon, and the Post's coverage of the White House.

Federal prosecutors are looking into whether the Enquirer violated a cooperation and nonprosecution agreement that recently spared the gossip sheet from charges for paying hush money to a Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Trump, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Friday. The people weren't authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

But asked during an interview with ABC's "This Week" whether he was concerned the Bezos matter could jeopardize the noncooperation agreement, Abramowitz said: "Absolutely not."

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," 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."

Bezos' affair became public when the Enquirer published story on Jan. 9 about his relationship with Lauren Sanchez, who is also married. Bezos then hired a team of private investigators to find out how the tabloid got the texts and photos the two exchanged.

Bezos' personal investigators, led by his security consultant Gavin de Becker, have focused on Sanchez's brother, according to a person familiar with the matter. The person wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Michael Sanchez is his sister's manager, a Trump supporter and an acquaintance of Trump allies Roger Stone and Carter Page.

Abramowitz would not comment when asked whether Michael Sanchez was the Enquirer's source but said that "Bezos and Ms. Sanchez knew who the source was."

Michael Sanchez has declined to speak with AP on the record. In a Jan. 31 tweet, he said without evidence that de Becker "spreads fake, unhinged conservative conspiracy theories."

After Bezos on 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 "and at least one other prominent journalist" involved in 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."

Abramowitz said he didn't know of any AMI employees blackmailing celebrities or journalists or "committing any crime at all."

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National Enquirer publisher David Pecker
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National Enquirer publisher David Pecker
FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2014 photo, David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media Inc., addresses those attending the Shape & Men's Fitness Super Bowl Party in New York. The parent company of magazines including the National Enquirer, Us Weekly and In Touch has admitted to engaging in a journalistically dubious practice known as “catch-and-kill” in order to help Donald Trump become president. (Marion Curtis via AP, File)
In this Jan. 31, 2014 photo, David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media, poses with his wife, Karen Pecker, at the Shape & Men's Fitness Super Bowl Party in New York. The Aug. 21, 2018 plea deal reached by Donald Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen has laid bare a relationship between the president and Pecker, whose company publishes the National Enquirer. Besides detailing tabloid's involvement in payoffs to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal to keep quiet about alleged affairs with Trump, court papers showed how David Pecker, a longtime friend of the president, offered to help Trump stave off negative stories during the 2016 campaign. (Marion Curtis via AP)
David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media speaks at the Shape and Men's Fitness Super Bowl Party in New York City, U.S., January 31, 2014. Picture taken January 31, 2014. REUTERS/Marion Curtis
PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 19: Alexandra Kazan and David Pecker attend the 'Shape France' Magazine cocktail launch at Hotel Talleyrand on January 19, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Francois Durand/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - OCTOBER 10: (L-R) Ivana Trump, Karen Pecker and David Pecker attend The 2007 Alzheimer's Association Rita Hayworth Gala at Waldorf Astoria on October 10, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by PATRICK MCMULLAN/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
David Pecker during The 50th Anniversary of Ferrari in the United States at Lever House in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Robin Platzer/FilmMagic for Nadine Johnson Inc)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27: Karen Pecker, David Pecker and DuJour Media Founder Jason Binn circa April 2015 in New York, NY. (Photo by Jason Binn/WireImage)
PARIS, FRANCE - JANUARY 19: David Pecker and Leslie Coutterand attend 'Shape France' Magazine Cocktail Launch at Hotel Talleyrand on January 19, 2012 in Paris, France. (Photo by Trago/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 10: Chairman and CEO of American Media David Pecker and and John B, Juliet Supper Club owner attend the Playboy's 50th anniversary hosted by American Media, Inc's David Pecker in celebration of its iconic Playboy Bunny and world-famous Playboy Clubs at Juliet Supper Club on June 10, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Kohen/Getty Images for American Media, Inc.)
NEW YORK - JUNE 10: Chairman and CEO of American Media David Pecker poses for a photo with 'Rampage' at the American Media, Inc's David Pecker hosts Playboy's 50th anniversary in celebration of its iconic Playboy Bunny and world-famous Playboy Clubs at Juliet Supper Club on June 10, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Joe Kohen/Getty Images for American Media, Inc.)
In this January 31, 2014 photo, Chairman and CEO of American Media, David Pecker poses with model Petra Nemcova at the Shape & Men's Fitness Super Bowl Party, New York. (AP Photo/Marion Curtis)
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In recent months, the Trump-friendly tabloid acknowledged secretly assisting Trump's White House campaign by paying $150,000 to Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with Trump. The company then buried the story until after the 2016 election.

Trump's longtime personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty last year to charges that included helping to broker that transaction.

As part of a nonprosecution agreement in that case, AMI promised not to break the law. The deal requires top executives, including Pecker and the Enquirer's editor, Dylan Howard, to cooperate with federal prosecutors. A violation of the agreement could lead to criminal charges over the McDougal payments.

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Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington and Michael R. Sisak and Jim Mustian in New York contributed to this report.

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