Fri. 8:41 a.m.: Bezos calls Enquirer threats to publish pics blackmail

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says he was the target of “extortion and blackmail” by the publisher of the National Enquirer, which he said threatened to publish revealing personal photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the tabloid obtained his private exchanges with his mistress.

Bezos, who is also owner of The Washington Post, detailed his interactions with American Media Inc., or AMI, in a blog post Thursday on Medium.com. The billionaire did not say the tabloid was seeking money — instead, he said, the Enquirer wanted him to make a public statement that the tabloid’s coverage was not politically motivated.

Bezos’ accusations add another twist to a high-profile clash between the world’s richest man and the leader of America’s best-known tabloid, a strong backer of President Donald Trump. Bezos’ investigators have suggested the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair — which included the release of risque texts — was driven by dirty politics.

“Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption,” Bezos wrote of AMI, in explaining his decision to go public. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.”

A spokesman and an attorney for AMI did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

But the company has admitted in the past that it engaged in what’s known as “catch-and-kill” practices to help Trump become president. Trump has been highly critical of Bezos and the Post’s coverage of the White House.

The Bezos affair became public when the Enquirer published a Jan. 9 story about his relationship with Lauren Sanchez, a former TV anchor 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.

Several days ago, someone at AMI told Bezos’ team that the company’s CEO David Pecker was “apoplectic” about the investigation, Bezos said. AMI later approached Bezos’ representatives with an offer.

“They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation,” Bezos wrote.

Bezos wrote that this week, the tabloid’s editor, Dylan Howard, emailed an attorney for Bezos’ longtime security consultant to describe photos the Enquirer “obtained during our newsgathering.” The photos include a “below the belt selfie” of Bezos, photos of him in tight boxer-briefs and wearing only a towel, and several revealing photos of Sanchez, according to the emails Bezos released.

According to the emails, an attorney for AMI offered a formal deal Wednesday: The tabloid wouldn’t post the photos if Bezos and his investigators would release a public statement “affirming that they have no knowledge or basis” to suggest the Enquirer’s coverage was “politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”

Bezos said he decided to publish the emails sent to his team “rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail,” despite the “personal cost and embarrassment they threaten.”

It does not appear that AMI demanded any money from Bezos — only that he call off his investigation and issue a statement saying the coverage wasn’t political.

In its Jan. 9 story, the Enquirer said reporters followed Bezos and Sanchez “across five states and 40,000 miles” and “tailed them in private jets, swanky limos, helicopter rides, romantic hikes, five-star hotel hideaways, intimate dinner dates and ‘quality time’ in hidden love nests.”

It reported that Bezos sent “sleazy text messages and gushing love notes” to Sanchez, months before Bezos announced he was splitting up with his wife, MacKenzie. The story carries the bylines of Howard and two reporters.

But Bezos was suspicious about how the tabloid could have possibly gotten access to his private exchanges.

Bezos usually stays out of the public eye, frequently delegating announcements and public Amazon business updates to his executives. He doesn’t even speak on the company’s quarterly financial earnings call with analysts.

His personal investigators, led by his longtime security consultant, Gavin de Becker, concluded that Bezos’ phone wasn’t hacked. Instead, they’ve been focusing on Sanchez’s brother, according to a person familiar with the matter.

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