Jeff Bezos Accuses National Enquirer of ‘Extortion and Blackmail’

By Karen Weise

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Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, said Thursday that the owner of The National Enquirer had tried to stop his investigation into how his private text messages and photos were leaked to the tabloid.CreditCreditJim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SEATTLE — Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, accused the owner of The National Enquirer on Thursday of trying “extortion and blackmail” to stop his investigation into how his private text messages and photos with his mistress were leaked to the tabloid.

In an extraordinarily personal online post, Mr. Bezos said intermediaries of David J. Pecker, the chairman of American Media Inc., the owner of The Enquirer, had approached him to stop his investigation. Mr. Bezos said he had been told that if he refused, the publisher would make risqué and intimate photos of him and his mistress, Lauren Sanchez, public.

Mr. Bezos said A.M.I. had wanted him to stop looking into it for political reasons. He pointed to the publisher’s past cooperation with President Trump, as well as its connections to the government of Saudi Arabia. Mr. Bezos owns The Washington Post, which has relentlessly reported on the murder last year of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident.

“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,” Mr. Bezos wrote of A.M.I., explaining why he had decided to speak out. “I prefer to stand up, roll this log over and see what crawls out.”

Mr. Bezos’ online post details a stunning and bizarre clash between the world’s richest man and the nation’s biggest tabloid publisher. In it, all of the country’s obsessions of recent years appear to have collided, from the personal lives of billionaires and sensational tabloid headlines to Mr. Trump’s fight with the media.

It has also shown that even for one of the world’s most powerful tech titans and the owner of one of the country’s most influential newspapers, the best means of communications can be a simple blog post. And in a time when Beltway pundits complain that the public has lost its capacity to be shocked, Mr. Bezos’ post did exactly that.

Amazon declined to comment. A.M.I. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The confrontation began last month when Mr. Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, announced that they were getting divorced. The couple, who have been married for 25 years, disclosed their separation just before The Enquirer published an article exposing that Mr. Bezos was having an affair with Ms. Sanchez, a former television host who is also married. The Enquirer article included text messages between Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez, in which he wrote of his feelings for her and used endearments including “alive girl.”

[Who Is MacKenzie Bezos? Her divorce has made the novelist, and her private life, a public fascination.]

Mr. Bezos, who has kept his personal life largely out of the public eye, said in his post that he had then quickly “engaged investigators to learn how those texts were obtained, and to determine the motives for the many unusual actions taken by The Enquirer.”

Mr. Bezos said he had turned to Gavin de Becker, his longtime private security consultant, for help. In recent interviews, including with The Daily Beast and The Washington Post, Mr. de Becker has said he was investigating whether Ms. Sanchez’s brother, who has said he supports Mr. Trump, may have been behind the leak for political reasons.

Those who support the president may have been motivated to move against Mr. Bezos since Mr. Trump has long criticized the billionaire. Mr. Trump has previously linked The Post and Amazon in critical Twitter posts, once declaring the “Fake Washington Post” a “lobbyist” for Amazon.

Mr. de Becker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Mr. Bezos’ post on Thursday, he also published several emails between Mr. de Becker’s lawyer, Martin Singer, and A.M.I.’s lawyer, Jon Fine, and chief content officer, Dylan Howard. The emails detail explicit photos The Enquirer had obtained of Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez but hadn’t run, and went on say A.M.I. would not publish the photos if Mr. Bezos stopped his investigation and publicly said he did not think the leak had been politically motivated.

In one email that Mr. Bezos disclosed, Mr. Howard wrote that The Enquirer had obtained photos of Mr. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez as part of its “newsgathering.” Included, Mr. Howard wrote, were photos that showed Ms. Sanchez simulating an oral sex scene and Mr. Bezos clad in just a white towel.

“Nothing I might write here could tell the National Enquirer story as eloquently as their own words,” Mr. Bezos wrote of releasing the emails.

He added that any personal embarrassment from the revelations took “a back seat because there’s a much more important matter involved here.”

“If in my position I can’t stand up to this kind of extortion,” he wrote, “how many people can?”

Follow Karen Weise on Twitter: @KYWeise.