NEW YORK -- Federal prosecutors are looking into the National Enquirer's handling of a story about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' extramarital affair to see if the tabloid's publisher violated a cooperation agreement with prosecutors, two people familiar with the matter said Friday.
Bezos claims the Enquirer's publisher, American Media Inc., tried to extort and blackmail him. In a blog post published Thursday on Medium.com, Bezos said American Media threatened to publish intimate photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the Enquirer obtained his private exchanges with his mistress.
Prosecutors now are looking at whether American Media violated an earlier agreement in which it promised not to break any laws in exchange for avoiding prosecution for campaign-finance violations, the people familiar with the matter said. They weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The high-profile clash has pitted the world's richest man against the leader of America's best-known tabloid, who is a strong backer of President Donald Trump. Bezos' investigators have suggested the Enquirer's coverage of his affair was driven by dirty politics.
A spokesman for American Media did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the investigation, and the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan declined to comment.
Earlier Friday, American Media said it "acted lawfully" while reporting the story and that it engaged in "good faith negotiations" with Bezos.
Bezos did not say the tabloid was seeking money -- instead, he said, the Enquirer wanted him to make a public statement that its coverage was not politically motivated.
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 Washington Post's coverage of the White House.
"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 American Media, in explaining his decision to go public Thursday. "I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out."
The Bezos affair became public when the Enquirer published a Jan. 9 article 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.
Bezos' 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.
De Becker and his team suspect Michael Sanchez, a talent manager who touts his support of Trump and is an acquaintance of Trump allies Roger Stone and Carter Page, may have provided the information to the Enquirer, the person said. The person wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Sanchez, who is also his sister's manager, has declined to speak with The Associated Press on the record and did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday. In a tweet, he said de Becker "spreads fake, unhinged conservative conspiracy theories" and "'dog whistle' smears."
Several days ago, someone at American Media told Bezos' team that the company's CEO, David Pecker, was "apoplectic" about the investigation, Bezos said. American Media 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 American Media 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."
Information for this article was contributed by Jim Mustian, Brian Melley and Rachel Lerman of The Associated Press.
A Section on 02/09/2019
Print Headline: Enquirer draws renewed scrutiny