Jeff Bezos accuses National Enquirer of blackmail, publishes apparent emails as evidence

By Kate Smith

/ CBS News

Jeff Bezos makes extortion accusation

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder and owner of The Washington Post, accused the National Enquirer's parent company of blackmailing him by threatening to publish intimate photographs unless Bezos publicly backed off criticisms of the media company.

Bezos, one of the wealthiest people on the planet, published what appeared to be emails from attorneys representing American Media, Inc. (AMI) on Thursday evening in an extraordinary Medium post under the title, "No thank you, Mr. Pecker," a reference to David Pecker, AMI's owner.

In an email dated Feb. 6, Jon Fine, the deputy general counsel of AMI, the Enquirer's parent company, appeared to ask Bezos and his attorney to publicly announce "that they have no knowledge of basis for suggesting that American Media Inc.'s coverage was politically motivated of influencer by political forces, and an agreement that they will cease referring to such a possibility." In exchange, "AM agrees not to publish, distribute, share or describe unpublished texts and photos."

In another letter dated Feb. 5, 2019, Fine defends the Enquirer's reporting on Bezos' impending divorce, including the publication of "private photographs." Fine criticizes "continuing defamatory activities" by Bezos, and references reporting efforts by The Washington Post.

"Absent the immediate cessation of the defamatory conduct, we will have no choice but to pursue all remedies available under applicable law," the letter reads. "That said, if your client agrees to cease and desist such defamatory behavior, we are willing to engage in constructive conversations regarding the texts and photos which we have in our possession."

Bezos brushed off the threat in his Medium post, writing, "Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there's a much more important matter involved here," Bezos wrote. "If in my position I can't stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?"

Neither Fine nor an AMI spokesman immediately returned messages seeking comment about Bezos' post.

AMI has admitted to playing a role in President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, paying former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 to kill her story about an alleged affair with the then-candidate. In December 2018, the Department of Justice struck a deal with AMI in which the company was granted immunity in exchange for cooperating with the department's investigation.

The media group has also been accused of sharing an advance copy of "The New Kingdom," a 97-page magazine lauding Saudi Arabia's crown prince published ahead of a planned media blitz, with the Saudi Embassy in Washington, a move that some say — including Bezos in his Medium post — was to foster goodwill between Mr. Trump and the Saudi kingdom's leaders.

First published on February 7, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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