Prosecutors in New York are looking into whether the National Enquirer’s parent company violated a cooperation agreement with the government in its dealings with Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, sources told The Times on Friday.
The move comes a day after Bezos publicly accused the Enquirer of extortion and blackmail by threatening to publish intimate photographs of him and former Los Angeles TV news anchor Lauren Sanchez unless he stopped an investigation into how the supermarket tabloid got his private messages.
Two sources familiar with the review but not authorized to discuss it publicly said federal prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York are examining Bezos’ allegations and, if true, whether they violated an agreement forbidding the paper’s parent company from committing a crime for three years.
That agreement was struck as part of a decision not to charge American Media Inc. in connection with allegations it violated campaign finance laws related to payments aimed at suppressing negative news about Donald Trump in advance of the 2016 presidential election.
Lawyers for the Amazon founder told The Times they have not yet been contacted by authorities regarding the matter.
Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, took the extraordinary step of publishing emails between lawyers for his security consultant and the Enquirer on the website Medium on Thursday. He then tweeted a link to his post.
He wrote that the Enquirer wanted him to make a false public statement that he and his security consultant, Gavin de Becker, “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
Bezos refused. “Rather than capitulate to extortion and blackmail, I’ve decided to publish exactly what they sent me, despite the personal cost and embarrassment they threaten,” he wrote.
He then published the emails between Martin Singer, a lawyer representing De Becker, and Enquirer Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard.
“I wanted to describe to you the photos obtained during our news gathering,” Howard wrote, going on to say that the Enquirer had a “below the belt selfie” of Bezos, along with several other shots. Howard added, “It would give no editor pleasure to send this email. I hope common sense can prevail — and quickly.”
Bezos noted that the email “got my attention,” and then made clear “any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes 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, how many people can?”
Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, revealed they would be divorcing after 25 years of marriage last month. The announcement came after the Enquirer contacted Bezos’ representatives about his relationship with Sanchez.
Shortly after the announcement, the Enquirer published text messages and electronic exchanges between Bezos and Sanchez, who now operates an aviation company. After the publication, Bezos hired De Becker to determine how the personal communications were obtained.
Local law enforcement officials said Friday they had not received any crime report from Bezos.
American Media Inc. said Friday it acted lawfully while reporting on the story about Bezos and Sanchez. The publisher said it would investigate whether the communications that Bezos published amounted to a threat and how the tabloid got the messages.
The Enquirer has generally been seen as an ally of Trump. AMI Chairman David Pecker is a longtime supporter of the president, who has repeatedly criticized Bezos.
In December, AMI accepted responsibility under a non-prosecution agreement for its role in a $150,000 payment to silence former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal about her alleged affair with Trump before the election.
As part of the deal, the company admitted its purpose was to suppress the woman’s story and prevent it from influencing the election. According to the agreement with AMI, Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, and another campaign official met with Pecker about the scheme in August 2015.