An attorney representing American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker says his client did not engage in extortion or blackmail against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Attorney Elkan Abramowitz also rejects the "Saudi angle" advanced by Bezos in Thursday's blog post, "No thank you, Mr. Pecker."
Speaking on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Abramowitz said the primary source for the Enquirer's investigation into Bezos' love life was a longtime tipster for the tabloid magazine. Last month the Enquirer published a detailed story about Bezos and his girlfriend Lauren Sanchez.
"This was a source that had been giving information to the National Enquirer for seven years. It was a person that was known to both Bezos and Ms. Sanchez, therefore giving his information more credibility," Abramowitz said.
He added: "It's not Saudi Arabia. It's not President Trump. It's not Roger Stone."
Abramowitz said he couldn't confirm or deny if Lauren Sanchez's brother Michael was the tipster. Michael Sanchez is a California public relations executive who is close to Pecker, according to the Washington Post. "It was somebody close to both Bezos and Ms. Sanchez," he said.
After the Enquirer asked Bezos for comment last month about an alleged affair with Sanchez, Bezos and his wife MacKenzie announced that they were divorcing "after a long period of loving exploration and trial separation."
The Enquirer story hit later that day. The tabloid cited private text messages and photos as evidence. Bezos called for an investigation and put his security chief Gavin de Becker in charge. At issue: How were the texts obtained? Michael Sanchez — a big Trump booster with connections to Stone — was one of the subjects of de Becker's investigation.
The Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos, worked on a story titled "Was tabloid exposé of Bezos affair just juicy gossip or a political hit job?"
In an interview with the Post, Michael Sanchez denied any wrongdoing and said he was told by people at the Enquirer's parent, American Media, that the tabloid was trying to do "a takedown to make Trump happy."
Trump has been harshly critical of Bezos, the Post and Amazon for years. The President has accused Amazon of taking advantage of the US Post office, and has called the Washington Post a lobbying organization for Bezos.
Trump has been close with Pecker and the Enquirer for years.
Last year American Media, Pecker, and Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard struck an immunity deal with federal prosecutors. In exchange, they cooperated in the hush money case that ensnared Michael Cohen and implicated President Trump in campaign finance allegations.
Pecker and Howard were thought to have "flipped" on Trump.
That's why, when the Bezos story hit, there were two competing theories about its provenance. Was the Enquirer just digging up dirt on the world's richest man because it was a dramatic story? Or was the Enquirer targeting a Trump enemy for political purposes, perhaps to get back in the president's good graces?
According to Bezos' blog post on Thursday, American Media was so troubled by de Becker's investigation and the charge of political foul play that it tried to broker a deal.
"They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn't stop our investigation," Bezos wrote on Medium. He called this "extortion and blackmail."
In one of the emails Bezos published, an AMI lawyer proposed that Bezos would disavow any belief that the Enquirer's coverage was "politically motivated," and in exchange, AMI would not "publish, distribute, share, or describe unpublished texts and photos."
On Sunday, Abramowitz denied that this amounted to blackmail or extortion.
"It was part of a legitimate negotiation. Each side had something that they wanted," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
"Both Bezos and AMI had interests in resolving their differences," he said. "Bezos didn't want another story written about him, or those pictures published. AMI did not want to have the libel against them that this was inspired by the White House, inspired by Saudi Arabia, or inspired by the Washington Post. It had nothing to do with it."
At the end of the interview, Stephanopoulos asked: "Another billionaire, Peter Thiel, brought down Gawker. Are you worried at all that Jeff Bezos will bring down the Enquirer?"
"I really can't comment on that," Abramowitz said. "We just want Bezos to acknowledge the results of that investigation, which will show that politics have nothing to do with the story. It was a typical National Enquirer story."
American Media may face legal trouble. The immunity deal contained standard language that said that if the company committed "any crimes" in the future, "AMI shall thereafter be subject to prosecution."
With Bezos publicly alleging that a crime has taken place, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are reviewing the Enquirer's handling of the Bezos reporting to determine if the company may have violated last year's deal, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN on Friday.
An American Media spokesman said Friday that the company "believes fervently that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the story of Mr. Bezos."
Now the company's board — comprising Pecker and three other men — is said to be "promptly and thoroughly" investigating Bezos's claims.
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