Federal prosecutors are looking into whether the National Enquirer’s publisher American Media Inc., broke a cooperation agreement with the government, following accusations by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that the company tried to blackmail him, The Associated Press reported Friday.
On Thursday, Bezos posted a Medium post in which he accused AMI of threatening to publish a nude selfie and other private photos of him unless he dropped an investigation into how the tabloid obtained the private materials.
The AP cited two people familiar with the matter who said prosecutors are looking into whether the emails sent to Bezos violated an agreement the government struck with AMI. The company was granted immunity in exchange for information about hush money payments to two women who said they had relationships with Donald Trump. As part of the deal, the company agreed to not commit any crimes for three years.
Bloomberg reported Friday that prosecutors have been given information about “key exchanges of concern to Bezos” and that authorities are in the process of reviewing the matter for potential criminal activity.
AMI did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Special Counsel’s Office and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York both declined comment.
Earlier in the day, AMI issued a statement saying it acted “lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos,” promising to “promptly and thoroughly investigate” the accusations by Bezos.
In his post Bezos said that the Enquirer did not ask for money but instead demanded he and his security chief, Gavin de Becker, make a public statement that its coverage was not politically motivated.
“In the AMI letters I’m making public, you will see the precise details of their extortionate proposal: They will publish the personal photos unless Gavin de Becker and I make the specific false public statement to the press that we ‘have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces,'” Bezos wrote in a Medium Post.
Pecker has been a longtime friend of the president. During the 2016 presidential race, the Enquirer wrote favorable stories about Trump and paid $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to suppress her story until after the 2016 election. The president has also been known to criticize Bezos as well as his businesses, Amazon and The Washington Post.
Bezos’ accusations could spell trouble for the tabloid. According to the agreement with prosecutors, if Bezos’ accusations are true, AMI could lose its immunity.
The clash between Bezos and the Enquirer started last month after the tabloid published a story about Bezos’ relationship with Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor. In response, Bezos hired private investigators to find out how the tabloid obtained the private texts and photos between him and Sanchez.
In his post Thursday, Bezos said that someone at AMI then told him that Pecker was “apoplectic” about the investigation.
It was then, according to Bezos, that AMI reached out to Bezos’ team in an effort to stop the investigation.
“They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation,” Bezos wrote.
In one of the emails sent to de Becker’s lawyer, Marty Singer, AMI’s chief content officer Dylan Howard describes one of the photos as a “below the belt selfie - otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d-ck pick.'”
Bezos said he decided to publish the emails instead.
Bezos’ investigators suspect Michael Sanchez, Lauren’s brother, may have played a role in leaking the photos to the Enquirer, according to the AP.
Sanchez, who has defended Trump on his Twitter feed, declined to comment to the AP. In a tweet, he accused de Becker of spreading “unhinged conservative conspiracy theories.”