Just a day after the Amazon founder published a detailed overview of the attempts by the David Pecker-run tabloid to halt his investigation into how private texts and photos got into the Enquirer’s hands and headlines, parent company American Media Inc is now facing a new probe by prosecutors.
Sources have confirmed to Deadline that officials at the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York have begun looking into the alleged strong-arm tactics against Pecker and AMI that Bezos made public yesterday.
The actions of “extortion and blackmail” that the world’s richest man described yesterday may constitute a violation of a deal the feds made late last year. That agreement granted AMI freedom from criminal prosecution in exchange for Pecker and the publication providing “substantial and important assistance” to the U.S. Attorney’s office in its investigations into possible misconduct and financial impropriety by Donald Trump’s campaign during the the 2016 election.
Among other things, that deal made last fall specifically outlined that Trump’s good buddies at AMI could “commit no crimes whatsoever” for up to three years. It’s a provision AMI may have very well blown up in their behavior with Bezos.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office officially declined comment when contact by Deadline about the newly minted investigation.
Earlier today, the Pecker-led four-man board of AMI said they believed the Enquirer “acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos” and “conducted good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him.” However, as Bezos revealed extensive correspondence from senior Enquirer editors to himself and lawyer Marty Singer that offered a new definition of “good faith negotiations,” the company said it would internally investigate his claims “promptly and thoroughly.”
Already deep into other probes of Trump and his affiliates, federal prosecutors just gave the National Enquirer some extra incentive, to put it mildly.
PREVIOUSLY, 7:02 AM: Turns out inquiring minds want to know at the National Enquirer’s parent company after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on Thursday accused the tabloid and American Media Inc CEO David Pecker of “blackmail and extortion” in regards to his private life and possible political big-picture moves.
“American Media believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos,” AMI said in a statement Friday after radio silence following accusations by the richest man in the world and Washington Post owner less than 24 hours beforehand. “Further, at the time of the recent allegations made by Mr. Bezos, it was in good faith negotiations to resolve all matters with him.”
Not sure, based on the correspondence that Bezos made public Thursday, if the Amazon boss and his lawyer Marty Singer would consider “good faith negotiations” a fair description of the back and forth the Pecker crew and Bezos’ advisors were having.
Also, having made a deal with federal prosecutors that granted them freedom from criminal prosecution for providing “substantial and important assistance” to them in investigations of possible misconduct in the 2016 election on the part of the Trump campaign, Pecker and AMI may have set off a legal tripwire with their attempts to strong arm the Amazon boss. That may see the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York or others opening a probe of their own regarding the possible violation of the agreement AMI made last fall.
It would be a probe AMI surely hopes to head off with their own investigation, at least for the time being.
“Nonetheless, in light of the nature of the allegations published by Mr. Bezos, the Board has convened and determined that it should promptly and thoroughly investigate the claims,” the Enquirer owner said. “Upon completion of that investigation, the Board will take whatever appropriate action is necessary.”
For the record, the AMI board is made up of Pecker, Chatham Asset Management partners Evan Ratner and Barry Schwartz, and the CFO of Shore Memorial Hospital in New Jersey, David Hughes. Also for the record, glaring headlines and pics of Bezos are all over the National Enquirer’s Twitter feed banners right now.
This all kicked off in the public eye when Bezos and his wife MacKenzie suddenly in early January announced they are separated and getting divorced after 25 years of marriage in what was an attempt to get in front of salacious stories in the Enquirer. Those tales included the state of the billionaire’s marriage and his subsequent relationship with Lauren Sanchez, the estranged wife of WME co-CEO Patrick Whitesell.
After Bezos and his security team began looking into the obvious attempt to shame him, AMI hit back with claims of more revealing material that they would drop unless he backed off. A retreat that had to be accompanied by a groveling apology, AMI seemed to insist in material Bezos put online yesterday.
“Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here,” Bezos wrote in a detailed inaugural blog post on Thursday. As well as informing the public of the Enquirer’s intentions and snatching back the media narrative, Bezos’ essay of sorts defended his own desire to discover how private texts and photos fell into the tabloid’s happy hands and AMI’s apparent threats to quell his inquiries.
“If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can? (On that point, numerous people have contacted our investigation team about their similar experiences with AMI, and how they needed to capitulate because, for example, their livelihoods were at stake),” Bezos stated, drawing connections between Pecker’s close friendship and efforts on behalf of ex-Celebrity Apprentice host Trump, his own ownership of the Post, and AMI’s business interests in Saudi Arabia.
Call it payback or checkmate, it’s now the owners of the National Enquirer trying to run away from scandalous headlines and perhaps the law.